Increasingly, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken a more active role in addressing data privacy and security issues involving consumer data. The FTC is also active in exploring how new uses of technologies impact consumer privacy. In a series of three seminars this coming Spring, the FTC is set to "shine a light on new trends in Big Data and their impact on consumer privacy" with respect to a number of areas:
Full Text of the Press Release:
For Release: 12/02/2013
FTC to Host Spring Seminars on Emerging Consumer Privacy Issues
This spring, the Federal Trade Commission will host a series of seminars to examine the privacy implications of three new areas of technology that have garnered considerable attention for both their potential benefits and the possible privacy concerns they raise for consumers.
As the tools available to track, market to and analyze consumers – often without their knowledge – grow, businesses are able to meet consumers’ demands more efficiently and effectively. But these tools may also carry significant risks to consumers’ privacy. The seminars, taking place over three months, will shine a light on new trends in Big Data and their impact on consumer privacy. The topics will include:
The series will bring together academics, business and industry representatives, and consumer advocates for two-hour discussion sessions, which will take place in Washington, D.C. and will be open to the public. The FTC invites comment from the public on the proposed topics, and will issue staff reports following the sessions.
Mobile Device Tracking – 10 a.m. to noon, Feb. 19, 2014
Recently, retailers and other businesses have begun tracking consumers’ movements throughout and around retail stores and other attractions using technologies that identify signals emitted by their mobile devices. While the technologies differ, many work by identifying and collecting the MAC address – which is unique to a particular device – broadcast when a mobile device searches for Wi-Fi networks. Companies can use these technologies to reveal information about consumers including the path taken throughout a location, length of time in one location, whether a visitor is new or returning, and the frequency of visits to a location. According to media reports, major retailers in the United States are using or have tested the technology in their stores in order to gain insights into the behavior of their customers.
In most cases, this tracking is invisible to consumers and occurs with no consumer interaction. As a result, the use of these technologies raises a number of potential privacy concerns and questions. The seminar will address questions such as:
Alternative Scoring Products – 10 a.m. to noon, March 19, 2014
Many data brokers offer companies scores to predict trends and the behavior of their customers. Companies are using predictive scores for a variety of purposes, ranging from identity verification and fraud prevention to marketing and advertising.
For example, companies are using scores to predict the likelihood that a person has committed identity fraud; the likelihood that a certain transaction will result in fraud; the credit risk associated with certain mortgage loan applications; whether contacting a consumer by mail or phone will lead to successful debt collection; whether sending a catalog to a certain address will result in an in-store or online purchase; the likelihood that an individual is taking his or her medication; a person’s presence on the Internet and his or her influence over others; or whether a customer is pregnant, and if so, when the baby is due.
According to media reports, these scores are determining whether transactions trigger further scrutiny, the kind of special offers that companies make to certain individuals (and those they don’t), and even whether the customer should speak to a high-ranking customer service agent at a company.
Consumers are largely unaware of these scores, and have little to no access to the underlying data that comprises the scores. As a result, these predictive scores raise a variety of potential privacy concerns and questions. The panel will discuss questions such as:
Consumer Generated and Controlled Health Data – Date and location TBD
Increasingly, consumers are taking a more active role in managing and generating their own health data. For example, consumers are researching their health conditions and diagnosing themselves online. Consumers are also uploading their information into personal health records and apps that allow them to manage and analyze their data, and utilizing connected health and fitness devices that regularly collect information about them and transmit this information to other entities.
The movement of health data outside the traditional medical provider context has many potential benefits; however, it also raises potential privacy concerns. The seminar will address questions such as:
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.