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FTC to Host Public Discussions on the Future of Privacy

Christopher Wolf

Christopher Wolf,

Washington, D.C.

15 September 2009
The Federal Trade Commission has just announced that it will host a series of day-long public roundtable discussions on the East and West Coasts "to explore the privacy challenges posed by the vast array of 21st century technology and business practices that collect and use consumer data."  The first roundtable discussion will occur on December 7th at the FTC Conference Center in Washington.

It has been widely-reported that the FTC is examining new ways to think about privacy and these discussions will further that examination.

As the Commission explained the focus of the first roundtable:

Such [technology and business] practices [to be examined] include social networking, cloud computing, online behavioral advertising, mobile marketing, and the collection and use of information by retailers, data brokers, third-party applications, and other diverse businesses. The goal of the roundtables is to determine how best to protect consumer privacy while supporting beneficial uses of the information and technological innovation.

The initial questions the FTC has presented for comment at the first workshop are:

  1. What risks, concerns, and benefits arise from the collection, sharing, and use of consumer information?  For example, consider the risks and/or benefits of information practices in the following contexts: retail or other commercial environments involving a direct consumer-business relationship; data broker and other business-to-business environments involving no direct consumer relationship; platform environments involving information sharing with third party application developers; the mobile environment; social networking sites; behavioral advertising; cloud computing services; services that collect sensitive data, such as information about adolescents or children, financial or health information, or location data; and any other contexts you wish to address.
  2. Are there commonly understood or recognized consumer expectations about how information concerning consumers is collected and used? Do consumers have certain general expectations about the collection and use of their information when they browse the Internet, participate in social networking services, obtain products from retailers both online and offline, or use mobile communications devices? Is there empirical data that allows us reliably to measure any such consumer expectations?  How determinative should consumer expectations be in developing policies about privacy?
  3. Do the existing legal requirements and self-regulatory regimes in the United States today adequately protect consumer privacy interests? If not, what are the particular privacy interests that warrant increased protection? How have changes in technology, and in the way consumer data is collected, stored, and shared, affected consumer privacy? What are the costs, benefits, and feasibility of technological innovations, such as browser-based controls, that enable consumers to exercise control over information collection? How might increased privacy protections affect technological innovation?

The FTC has explained that individuals and organizations may submit requests to participate as panelists in the December dicussion, and may recommend topics for inclusion on the agenda. The requests and recommendationshave been directed to privacyroundtable@ftc.gov.   More details can be found here.

 

Christopher Wolf

Christopher Wolf,

Washington, D.C.

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