FTC drafts new internet rules to protect users' search, health and location data

FTC drafts new internet rules to protect users’ search, health and location data

The Federal Trade Commission is working on new internet privacy rules affecting the collection, analysis and sale of people’s data rather than waiting for Congress to advance legislation governing commercial surveillance.

Private companies monitoring web browsing and purchase histories, location and movements, health data and other information prompted the independent agency to enforce new regulations.

A deadline closed on Monday for the public to comment on how the agency is expected to draft new rules that could radically alter business operations and people’s online lives, meaning a hurdle is out of the way. scope of the federal government to develop the rules.

FTC Chair Lina Khan said her team is working to determine whether unfair and deceptive data practices warrant the federal government establishing new “market-wide rules” instead of dealing with issues on a case-by-case basis.

“Companies collect data on where we go, what we read, who we meet, what we buy, and research has suggested that many Americans have limited idea of ​​what information is collected about them and how it is collected. are used, sold or stored, and that even when people are aware, they may be left with no real choice but to accept these practices,” Ms Khan said at a meeting in September.

Ms Khan said the collection of troves of data has coincided with hacks, leaks and other security vulnerabilities exposing people’s information which can lead to identity theft, discrimination and other damages.

The FTC is concerned not only with how people’s data is collected, but also with how it is analyzed and stored. An FTC fact sheet on the upcoming rules says the agency is concerned about algorithms examining people’s behavior and how companies sell that information to advertisers.

The agency published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register in August and received nearly 1,000 comments before Monday’s deadline.

Opponents and skeptics of the agency’s plan argue that the FTC’s proposal is unreasonably broad and unjustifiable.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau said the FTC is set to make sweeping changes without clearly explaining what the government intends to do. The bureau said it represents more than 700 companies, and its website says the list of general members includes top companies such as CNN, Fox News, Google, Twitter, TikTok, Taco Bell, Comcast and Best Buy. .

“While ANPR attempts to focus on two key practices, ‘commercial oversight’ and ‘lax data security’, these practices are defined so broadly that it is nearly impossible to understand the areas that are being scrutinized. by the Commission,” the bureau wrote to the FTC earlier this month.

The bureau said the FTC’s definition of commercial surveillance can involve any online activity using consumer data, which the bureau said would affect “virtually every sector of the economy.”

Other critics said the FTC lacked the proper authority to enact such regulations.

The libertarian-leaning R Street Institute said the FTC’s proposal goes well beyond what Congress has authorized.

“Unlike acting on Congress’s narrower vision for the FTC, ANPR sets out 95 questions on a wide range of issues from biometrics to targeted advertising,” the R Street Institute said. “The topics of the rules may even extend beyond that since ANPR states that it does not identify the full scope of potential approaches the FTC could take by a rule.”

Federal lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to push through new privacy legislation. Representatives Frank Pallone, Democrat of New Jersey, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican of Washington, introduced the US Privacy and Data Protection Act in June that aims to minimize the collection of people’s data, allow people to disable targeted ads and create a new privacy office. within the FTC.

The bill ran into an obstacle from Senate Democrats, with Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell of Washington saying there was no chance her fellow Democrats would bring the bill to a vote. .

If Congress decides to reconsider privacy legislation next year, Khan has made it clear that the FTC will re-evaluate its actions, but she has no intention of stopping without strong new rules. .

“If Congress passes strong federal privacy legislation – as I hope – or if there is any other significant change in applicable law, then the Commission would be able to reassess the added value of this effort and whether pursuing it is a good use. of resources,” Ms. Khan wrote in an August memo to the Federal Register.

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