FTC Is Considering the Need for Stricter Online Privacy Rules

The Federal Trade Commission is looking into establishing stronger online privacy protections that would hold businesses such as Facebook, Google and Twitter more responsible for how they handle consumer data. The early discussions, under the leadership of new chair and vocal Big Tech critic Lina Khan, are addressing the possibility of introducing FTC regulation due to what is perceived as gridlock in Congress in creating a federal law. Privacy and civil rights groups have advocated for a single federal law — similar to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — rather than state laws (or no regulation at all).

“Congressional efforts to assist the FTC in tackling perceived online privacy problems was the focus of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “If the agency chooses to move forward with an initiative, any broad new rule would likely take years to implement.”

“As legislative efforts have stalled, the FTC could be the Biden administration’s best bet at regulating the tech industry’s grasp over consumer data, even if it could take years to finish the agency’s rulemaking process,” notes The Verge. “Still, experts fear the agency may not have the power, by itself, to issue strong enough rules to truly reel in tech’s data power.”

WSJ suggests the FTC regulations could take several approaches: “It could look to declare certain business practices unfair or deceptive, using its authority to police such conduct. It could also tap a less-used legal authority that empowers the agency to go after what it considers unfair methods of competition. The agency could also address privacy protections for children by updating its rules under the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. And it could use its enforcement powers to target individual companies, as some privacy advocates urge.”

The Commission could also opt not to pursue a new privacy initiative and progress could be placed on hold until Alvaro Bedoya, President Biden’s nominee to the Commission, is confirmed.

Meanwhile, Commerce Committee chair Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) called for beefing up the FTC’s resources. “The truth is that our economy has changed significantly, and the Federal Trade Commission has neither the adequate resources nor the technological expertise at the FTC to adequately protect consumers from harm,” she said yesterday.

In addition, House Democrats recently recommended providing the FTC with $1 billion for a new bureau that would address “unfair or deceptive acts or practices relating to privacy, data security, identity theft, data abuses, and related matters.”