Saturday, January 14, 2012

Conversation with Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill

Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill spoke in front of about 80 individuals munching on burritos (important proof of attendance point) at Stanford Law School on January 12. The Commissioner spoke about the Federal Trade Commission's initiatives to protect consumer privacy. This talk was part of “National Data Privacy Day 2012”. It was sponsored by Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School.

One of the significant developments during 2011, according to Brill, was the growing awareness of big data from multiple sources being pulled together to provide information on consumers. Brill called for vendors to “institute privacy by design.” “Should we be collecting this data?” Brill asked. She discussed the consumers’ right to know information is being collected, the right to access it, and the right to collect it.

Do not track mechanisms have been and are being developed by the industry itself, not the government. “To the extent promises are made and not lived up…is something we could take a look at and have”, according to Brill. She felt that consumers should be given information about what is happening to their data.

The most significant action Brill felt the FTC took in 2011 was the proposed settlement with Facebook. “For the first time we are calling on companies by decree to institute a comprehensive privacy programs."She talked about how audit for the next 20 years have been established as part of the settlement.

Brill also touched briefly on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. “We’re also proposing rule modifications”, she said.

With respect to privacy from the government, Brill said, “We focus on the use of information about consumers in a commercial focus.“

In the international arena, Brill said that the FTC works a great deal with overseas counterparts, in a number of different areas, including enforcement, competition, and privacy. She felt that the FTC’s role in international privacy has grown. “It’s very important to us to have lines of communication with other regulators”, according to Brill.

Other Developments

• There is a draft report being finalized by the commission regarding privacy. Brill said that a number of comments on the draft so far (hundreds).
• Regarding the mobile space - More attention will be paid to this space in the coming year. “Do consumers understand what they are being told?” Brill asked.
• Layered notices – Brill felt that there was a need to give consumers information “in consumer language, simplified notice rather than legalese."
• “For the first time we are calling on companies by decree to institute a comprehensive privacy programs.”

The Stop Online Piracy Act, proposed by Texan Republican Lamar Smith in late October, has received a lot of attention in the press lately. It wasn’t talked about during the discussion.

About FTC Commissioner Julie Brill

Julie Brill was sworn in as a Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission April 6, 2010, to a term that expires on September 25, 2016. Brill has worked actively on issues most affecting today’s consumers. These include protecting consumers’ privacy, encouraging appropriate advertising substantiation, guarding consumers from financial fraud, and maintaining competition in industries involving high tech and health care.

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