Technology can both enhance the lives of consumers and create significant privacy issues, said David Vladeck, head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Speaking from the FTC’s second roundtable on online privacy at the University of California, Berkeley, today, Vladeck expressed concern that consumers have little awareness of how data is being collected or used online. That concern extends to social media privacy, mobile data, manufacturing and cloud computing security.
Vladeck summarized the lessons from the first FTC privacy roundtable, held last year in Washington, D.C. Consumers are “unaware of whether and how they can exercise control” over online data, he said, including practices in data broker industry. The “practice of behavioral advertising may be unfamiliar to consumers.”
The fact that consumers do care about online privacy is driven home in many ways, said Vladeck. He cited the popularity of a popup blocker for the Firefox Web browser and interest in resources for managing social media privacy settings. “The No. 1 most-emailed article from The New York Times was about how consumers can change privacy settings on Facebook,” said Vladeck. “That speaks volumes.”
The FTC privacy roundtable will examine both how technology enhance consumer privacy and how it can challenge or circumvent it, said Vladeck.
The FTC sees a “troubling technological arms race” between consumer empowerment tools and technologies that enable more data collection, he said, with countermeasures developed each time a means to protect privacy is developed.
In his remarks, Vladeck broke the FTC’s privacy roundtable into four areas:
- Social networking privacy: Social media is the “online equivalent to the water cooler,” revolutionizing how people interact. “It’s a boon to consumers, enabling us to reconnect and cement relationships. On the other hand, others can scrutinize the minutia of our lives.”
- Cloud computing security: “Cloud computing offers significant consumer benefit. At the same time, storing data on remote computers raises serious privacy and security concerns.” The issue with cloud computing security and privacy, as he observed, lies in the ease with which data may be shared, which increases the risk that data may be used in unanticipated ways.
- Mobile privacy: “Mobile devices have brought tremendous opportunities,” but also new privacy concerns. “How is location-based information being collected and used?” He also wondered how companies would be able to gain informed consent on devices with small screens. The FTC’s scrutiny confirms that GPS devices and geolocation data create privacy and security risks.
- Manufacturing: Vladeck indicated that the FTC will also be looking at how businesses are building privacy into services or devices at the outset. Ideally, he said, “privacy protections will be baked into products from the beginning.”
A full privacy roundtable agenda is available from FTC.gov.
The roundtable is being streamed online. Follow the conversation at #FTCprivacy on Twitter to read commentary in 140 characters or less or tune in to this list of privacy experts, workshop audience attendees and other commentators.