“As much as businesses may complain about the FTC, they also want it to function well and police the outliers in their own industries.” This is a key point in Chris Jay Hoofnagle’s new book, "Federal Trade Commission Privacy Law and Policy." Hoofnagle delivers a comprehensive look into what the FTC was, is, and even suggests what it should be.
Hoofnagle is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information and School of Law, faculty director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, of counsel to Gunderson Dettmer LLP, and a member of the American Law Institute.
The book is separated into three main parts. Part I is a history of the FTC, from humble beginnings to modern-day privacy watchdog. It also includes the authority of the FTC and information on how it operates on a day-to-day basis. Part II describes the modern FTC’s role in the regulation of privacy, including chapters on online privacy, privacy of children, information security, anti-marketing efforts, financial privacy, international privacy efforts. Part III is a conclusion, which includes Hoofnagle’s own thoughts on the FTC’s regulation of privacy and how it should function moving forward. In total, the book is 365 pages.
One of the more impressive things about this book is that it has something for everyone. It's for the student researching the FTC and needing it as a reference tool, it’s for privacy professional seeking to think more critically about the role of the FTC, and the historian interested in delving into the fluid history of an often misunderstood American agency. Before reading the book, it would certainly be helpful to have some familiarity with the FTC and its authority as some things are only mentioned and then later explained in more detail. However, a FTC novice could read this book and take away plenty.
Also of note is the numerous anecdotes throughout the book. Hoofnagle masterfully takes the time to explain certain stories and situations in more depth to either put them in context or enhance the reader’s understanding. While many of the anecdotes are tangential to the main topics of FTC policy and privacy, they are interesting nonetheless. For example, after introducing the FTC’s attempt to broaden its consumer intervention authority in the mid-20th century, Hoofnagle mentions cigarette advertising as a specific example. At the end of the paragraph, he elaborates on the FTC’s part in creating the famous cigarette warnings that were mandated after the Surgeon General’s Report of 1964. These anecdotes are littered throughout the book and are set apart from the normal text. This gives reader the opportunity to read the anecdotes where they are relevant, or pass over them to continue with the flow of the chapter.
In his conclusion, Hoofnagle wrote, “Neither consumers nor their advocates want a tamed industry in America. All of us desire information-industry innovations. But, at the same time, a stronger regulatory hand is needed today to bridle the information industry.” This is not only a statement about the purpose of the FTC, but a challenge to the reader to decide for themselves what the FTC should be. I highly recommend this book because it not only provides the reader with a complete understanding of the FTC, but encourages you to think about role the FTC should play in age of big data.
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