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FTC Chief Urges Companies To Do More To Protect Privacy

Friday, April 10th, 2015

Federal Trade Commission Commissioner (FTC Chief) Julie Brill has urged businesses to do more in order to protect the privacy of their customers. Speaking at the “Privacy Day” keynote event at Carnegie Mellon University, Brill also requested product creators and entrepreneurs to include security and privacy features into their products especially if the product happens to transmit sensitive data. FTC has been at the forefront of various privacy initiatives and lately it has focused its attention on the privacy challenges associated with Internet of Things (IOT) enabled products.

Speaking at the event, Brill said that companies manufacturing products which transmit data via the internet should ensure that the transmitted data doesn’t fall into the hands of hackers. In addition, product creators should ensure that their product is collecting just the bare minimum amount of personal data required for its functioning. She also said that the commission had acted against many companies and filed lawsuits against several businesses that had failed to safeguard sensitive data of consumers or had supplied it to third parties without the consent of the users.

When a participant mentioned that internet users have the option to opt out of tracking by simply changing the privacy settings of their browsers, Brill said that IOT devices worked in a slightly different way. She said that not all IOT enabled devices needed browsers for their functioning and many of them did not even have privacy options that could be customized by the users. She recalled her recent visit to Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where tech companies showcased their latest IOT products, each of which was collecting private data of consumers in some way and transmitting it via the internet. She added that customers needed to be more aware regarding where their data was going and how it was being used by the product creators.

Brill also requested tech entrepreneurs present within the audience to develop more visual and easy to understand privacy policies for their products. She said that consumers would want to know what is happening with their private data even when there is minimal data collection. A well-designed privacy policy would help to allay their fears and assure them that their data is in completely safe hands. She also mentioned that it would be impossible to reap the full benefits of Internet of Things if the privacy fears of consumers are not addressed.

Also speaking at the event was Carnegie Mellon professor Alessandro Acquisti who noted that while consumers are willing to share their data, they also wanted to protect it. He said that consumers were prone to making errors when exposed to difficult privacy choices and their decisions often led to disastrous consequences. Acquisti also mentioned that it would be interesting to measure the economic impact of the privacy choices made by the consumers and added that it might be possible that some companies are already doing such kind of analysis. However, he also added that the practice is not that widespread since most businesses were adept at collecting data from the consumers but they lagged far behind while using the collected data in a meaningful way.

April 10, 2015

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