FTC Chairwoman Concerned About Data Security and Privacy

In a speech at CES earlier this week, Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission addressed her concerns about the current state of privacy regulations related to companies that rely on the collection of consumer data. Ramirez urges tech companies to spend more time developing security measures to ensure consumer data remains protected from potential hackers. Ramirez also advises companies to take careful precautions now and be more transparent about their use of data.

“The FTC has been scrutinizing the data collection practices of the technology industry for their effect on consumer privacy,” reports The New York Times. “Ramirez has spoken publicly about the merits of ‘privacy by design,’ in which privacy controls are built into a product from the outset instead of as an afterthought.”

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“Ramirez outlined several concerns including ubiquitous data collection, or the ability of sensors to collect sensitive personal information about consumers all the time and in real time; unexpected uses of consumer data, such using individual energy use patterns to set their homeowners’ insurance rates; and cybersecurity threats,” notes The Wall Street Journal.

The growth of Internet connected technology such as wearables and smart homes is dependent upon an accumulation of consumer data. Without the data, this technology fails to serve its purpose. Without proper privacy protection however, the data being collected is at risk of being exposed and collected by those with malicious intentions.

“Any device that is connected to the Internet is at risk of being hijacked,” said Ramirez, expressing concern regarding the growing number of access points for hackers.

“Ramirez seemed to be directing her remarks at the startups that are making most of the products — like fitness trackers and glucose monitors — driving the so-called Internet of Things,” notes NYT.

“I question the notion that we must put sensitive consumer data at risk on the off chance a company might someday discover a valuable use for the information,” she added in response to the notion that it is necessary to collect large amounts of data for potential future uses.

Other speakers at CES took Ramirez’s comments to heart. Mark Fields, for example, Ford’s new chief exec, said that his company takes the responsibility of securing consumer and employee data seriously.

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“We believe customers own their data and we are simply stewards of that data,” he said. “And we commit to being trusted stewards of that data.”

While some companies promise to heed the FTC’s warnings, consumers can also become proactive about securing their own data. According to a related article from The New York Times, one noteworthy solution was introduced at CES this week: “It comes from Bitdefender, which makes antivirus and anti-malware software for computers, and is called the Bitdefender Box. The box is a physical device that plugs into your Internet router and constantly scans your network and the websites you visit for potentially harmful software or viruses.”

The FTC is expected to release a report on the Internet of Things in the next few weeks. Ramirez’s CES speech (available on the FTC site) set the stage for the upcoming report.