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Privacy Perspectives | FTC To Unveil Data Security Initiative Related reading: Notes from the IAPP Publications Editor, Oct. 19, 2018

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Several high-ranking officials from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shared their views and concerns on recent developments in the privacy space Thursday at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit. Additionally, the FTC plans to launch a campaign to provide businesses with guidance on data security and will host a roundtable this fall on cross-device tracking.

FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Jessica Rich said the agency is set to launch “Start with Security.” The goal is to provide businesses with resources, education and guidance on data security. FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez explained the program further, noting it will be aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses, particularly since so many new organizations are rapidly entering the Internet of Things market and often don’t have the same data security experience as other, more mature technology companies. She said the agency wants to bring engagement on these issues by sharing best practices and bringing together experts from around the country.

Ramirez noted the agency is always looking to take action that has the most impact on consumers. She cited a Pew Internet Research poll that reveals that, by 2020, 80 percent of the world’s population will have smartphones and that, currently, 60 percent of U.S. citizens have smartphones. With this rapid consumer adoption, industry is rapidly developing sophisticated tracking technology. Out of concern, the agency is paying close attention to cross-device tracking.

Commissioner Julie Brill highlighted four trends the FTC is looking at, including how closely data security relates to privacy. She also said the agency will pay close attention to sensitive information. “The biggest challenge for companies,” she said, “is going to be: When will innocuous information turn into sensitive information?”

All three  reacted to the controversial discussion draft of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights released by the White House late last week.

“It’s significant the administration is backing and showing a commitment to a general privacy bill,” Ramirez noted. “That alone is significant where we are now in a national conversation about privacy legislation, something which I personally support.”

All three FTC officials expressed their concerns about the bill’s lack of clarity, however, and the potential for loopholes and challenges to FTC authority.

Rich said, “overall, we think part of the bill won’t provide strong enforceable privacy protection” and that there are “fuzzy” and “fluid” requirements, including a “long definition on context.” She also said the proposed privacy review boards can be internal boards, and there’s not necessarily a requirement for an external review.

The bill also says that if a business changes how it uses consumer data in its privacy policy, it’s not required to get opt-in from its users.

Ramirez expressed concern the bill could also preempt several stronger state laws around the country.

Brill said the bill would “put restrictions on us that I’ve never seen before," adding, “We need to put the consumer back in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.”

Brill also defended the viability of the Safe Harbor agreement with Europe: “Safe Harbor is really a consumer protection tool. It allows the FTC to protect Europeans.”

She likened the current state of play to a marriage. “How do you make it work?” Sometimes it takes compromise and understanding.

"Safe Harbor allows information to flow," she said. "Let’s keep it as a tool, but let’s improve it."

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