April 30th, 2012
Julie Brill Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission sat down for an informal talk with The Berkman Center’s John Palfrey in a classroom environment to talk about internet privacy concerns and the government role in protective policies (see the video here). She initially spoke on the growth of consumer protective measures and the history of the federal trade commission. Brill stated that the “the trade commission was founded in 1914, it was the brainchild of Louis Brandeis.” She goes on to explain how the commission is formulated with a broad flexible mandate, allowing for the regulation of trust regulation and consumer protection to evolve with the marketplace instead of waiting for the slower regulatory processes of legislative bodies. Explaining the role of oversight relating to consumer protection practices she explains that the FTC looks into areas such as advertising substantiation and telemarketing, among others. One of the more useful services produced for consumer protection by The Federal Trade Commission that many of us take advantage of is the Do Not Call List. She touts this program as being “the most popular government program since the Elvis Stamp.”
Getting into the core of the discussion relating to consumer privacy concerns Brill explains how the many functions of the FTC; study research, consumer protection, and economic competition, all come together well when focusing on consumer privacy concerns. Modern consumer privacy concerns are not totally confined to internet and data security, but a large portion of the focus today surrounds this area. As more and more people rely almost completely on web based products and services, consumers open themselves up to ever evolving cyber crimes. One of the central concerns of the FTC is how consumer information is collected and used. Online privacy statements of some of the largest and wealthiest targeted advertisement companies have come under a great level of scrutiny over the past few years.
Investigating the manner in which companies such as Google and Facebook collect, use, and sell consumer information is central to modern consumer privacy protection. Disclosure and clarity is a struggle for both consumers and companies in a climate where the demand for instantaneous service is so high. In settlements relating to Google and Facebook online privacy and consumer information sharing, the FTC instituted a system of independent auditing to try and maintain compliance with privacy laws and regulations. This was largely due to the manner in which they would share information with third party advertisers and applications. What concerns me is that since these companies have grown so
large and wealthy from selling consumer information, they can easily lobby government officials for looser regulation and oversight. Although Brill talks about how independent the FTC is from the central government, appointments to the commission are made by the president and approved by the senate. With the FTC being able to levy fines and collect consumer restitution funds, there is no doubt that many companies would rather spend that money on creating a regulatory environment that is pro-business.
A conversation with Julie Brill,
Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission, and John Palfrey | Berkman Center.
(n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2012, from