FTC chief targets firms with vast databases

by jeeg 21. August 2013 21:37

Edith Ramirez, the chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, said on Monday that her agency will aggressively police companies with control over large databases of personal information.

In a speech at the Technology Policy Institute's annual conference, she said that being able to store and analyze vast quantities of data can lead to beneficial innovations in fields such as healthcare, energy and agriculture. But she warned that so-called "big data" also poses a threat to privacy and enhances the importance of data security.

She said the FTC will use its power to punish deceptive business practices to crack down on firms that fail to live up to their own promises about how they will use their customers' data. The agency will also use its authority to police unfair practices to go after companies that "substantially" harm consumers with inadequate data security practices.   

"Like a vigilant lifeguard, the FTC’s job is not to spoil anyone’s fun but to make sure that no one gets hurt," Ramirez said. "With big data, the FTC’s job is to get out of the way of innovation while making sure that consumer privacy is respected."

She renewed her call for Congress to enact baseline privacy protection legislation, a proposal endorsed by President Obama but that has gained little momentum on Capitol Hill.

She also said Congress should give the FTC civil penalty authority against companies that fail to take "reasonable" steps to protect information.

Ramirez said that by the end of the year, the agency will issue its report on "data brokers," firms that compile and sell detailed profiles of consumers.

Brendan Sasso, The Hill




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