FTC Chair Calls on Businesses to Expand Big Data Privacy Efforts

    Jul 08, 2015

    Speaking at a June 10 conference convened by the Hong Kong Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez urged businesses to take several actions to protect consumers and their privacy as part of their role in the big data life cycle.

    “Just as big data has the potential for big benefits, it also has the potential for big risks,” she said. “As we are seeing in the United States, as companies develop new and innovative ways to ‘score’ consumers, organizations can use these scores to deny consumers the ability to complete transactions, often without any explanation. Unscrupulous organizations can use big data to offer misleading offers or scams to the most vulnerable prospects, a trend that we at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission are unfortunately seeing today.”

    Ramirez called on “entities that collect, compile, consolidate, and analyze data, and the entities that use big data” to provide consumers with more transparency and choice, particularly with respect to the tracking of consumers’ mobile devices. 

    She said companies need to implement reasonable security safeguards to protect consumers’ personal information, noting that the FTC hosts useful materials on its website and that it recently announced its “Start with Security” campaign, which will offer nationwide presentations to corporate organizations on specific data security topics and best practices.  The campaign was launched in response to criticism that the FTC is charging companies with unfair trade practices for data security breaches and incidents despite the lack of guidance as to what constitutes acceptable security practices.

    Finally, she said, “businesses must use big data responsibly, in ways that do not discriminate against or adversely affect vulnerable populations.”  She noted, for example, that the screening of job applicants based on commuting distance “could have a disparate impact on minority communities that often have to travel long distances to commercial hubs where most jobs are located.”  She urged companies not to include this type of analytics in their hiring decisions.

    Ramirez noted that the FTC’s current enforcement authority and existing privacy and consumer protection laws are not sufficient to allow the agency to adequately address privacy and data protection issues.  She said Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” does not require notices or choices about big data practices.

    “This is why our efforts at the FTC must go beyond enforcement of existing laws,” she said.  “I will continue to urge our Congress to enact comprehensive privacy and data security legislation.”

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