Think Tank Urges FTC To Abandon Privacy Rulemaking

The Federal Trade Commission should abandon a regulatory initiative that could result in new online privacy rules, the technology think tank TechFreedom says in new comments submitted on Thursday to the agency.

Instead, the agency should “continue to police hard privacy questions case by case,” but leave “major questions” around privacy to Congress, TechFreedom president Berin Szoka urges.

The comments come in response to the FTC's recent move toward crafting privacy regulations.

Specifically, last month the agency issued an “advance notice of proposed rulemaking” that sought comments from the public on a broad range of issues relating to “commercial surveillance” -- which it defined as "the collection, aggregation, analysis, retention, transfer, or monetization of consumer data and the direct derivatives of that information."

The move marked a first step in what is likely to be a years-long regulatory process. The agency said at the time that it launched the initiative because recent events, along with research, “suggest that harmful commercial surveillance and lax data security practices may be prevalent and increasingly unavoidable.”

Some consumer groups cheered the FTC's initiative, while advertising industry organizations voiced opposition.

The umbrella group Privacy for America argued that Congress, not the FTC, should set privacy standards. That organization also suggested it would challenge FTC privacy rules in court.

Szoka said in his comments that prior FTC rulemaking initiatives centered on “discrete issues,” but that document issued last month “is as broad as is the concept of 'privacy' itself.”

TechFreedom legal fellow Andy Jung added that “broad and sweeping” rules on privacy could “impede innovation” in several ways, including by restricting companies' ability to personalize online material.

“Privacy and data security rules may force firms to start charging for online tools and services that are currently ad-supported,” Jung wrote. “New privacy and data security rules would limit firms’ ability to monetize free online services, forcing them to switch to paid models which charge consumers upfront.”

The FTC is accepting comments through October 21.

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