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FTC Takes an Aggressive Stance on Privacy

Ads with Eyes Get a Closer Look

ITU Civil Society Briefing Leaves Questions Unanswered

Featured on Policy Beta

November 7 - Baku, Azerbaijan - Kevin Bankston will be lead participant in workshop entitled "Solutions for Enabling Cross-Border Data Flows"

November 7 - Atlanta, GA - Alissa Cooper is moderating the technical plenary on the topic of network performance measurement at the 85th Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meeting.


Recent action by the Federal Trade Commission suggests that the agency may be getting more aggressive in using its existing authority to go after data collection and dissemination practices that it considers unfair. In another development, the FTC issued a report on facial recognition technology, extensively citing CDT's earlier work on the issue. Meanwhile, CDT continued to coordinate with our civil society partners around the world to warn of the risks to Internet development posed by policy proposals being considered by the International Telecommunication Union.

FTC Takes an Aggressive Stance on Privacy

The Federal Trade Commission announced on September 25 that it had settled a case against seven rent-to-own companies and a software design firm charging that they had spied on consumers by capturing screenshots, logging keystrokes, and, in some cases, taking pictures of people in their homes without notice or consent. The settlement is important because it marks the most expansive use yet of the FTC's "unfairness" authority to pursue privacy violations. As privacy legislation has again stalled in Congress, the case could signal more aggressive FTC enforcement under existing law.

In the past, the FTC has relied on its "deceptiveness" power to go after a wide range of companies that used information in contravention of promises they had made in their privacy policies. Also, the agency has used its unfairness authority against companies for failing to reasonably protect sensitive information collected from consumers.

The Commission has recently indicated that it might expand its conception of what constitutes unfairness in the privacy context. In the latest settlement, against the rent-to-own companies and a firm called Designware, the facts alleged by the FTC were egregious, but the Commission's underlying rationale suggests that it could bring other unfairness cases concerning the dissemination of consumer data. Especially interesting was the Commission's willingness to find harm - a key element of an unfairness case - to be sufficiently likely as a result of disclosing personal, financial, and confidential information to third parties.

Ads with Eyes Get a Closer Look

Facial recognition technology is both increasingly useful and increasingly problematic. The technology is widely available and easy to use. It is being used for photo tagging, to target advertisements in stores, and for computer security and authentication. Facial recognition once required access to large databases of photographs and significant computing power available only to large corporations and governments. Today it is available in free software packages and in the handheld computing devices that millions of us use every day.

To provide guidance to the growing number of companies using facial recognition technology, the Federal Trade Commission on October 22 released a staff report, "Facing Facts: Best Practices for Common Uses of Facial Recognition Technologies." The report is intended to advise developers on how to better protect consumer privacy as they build new products and services incorporating facial recognition technology.

Ahead of the FTC report, CDT released its own paper on facial recognition, comparing how the U.S. and E.U. treat the technology.

ITU Civil Society Briefing Leaves Questions Unanswered

Two weeks ago, the International Telecommunication Union hosted a briefing for civil society organizations interested in the ITU's upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). Although the ITU's official aim was to "provide an overview of the conference, the preparatory process, and some of the main principles and issues being discussed," the briefing offered little substantive or procedural guidance. Instead, it made clear that the ITU is leaving the question of civil society participation at the WCIT in the hands of Member States. The ITU repeatedly has said that civil society may participate in WCIT through national consultations or on national delegations, but this is only if Member States allow such participation. Most countries around the world have have not held public consultations around the WCIT, and are not including civil society organizations in their national delegations to the Conference. CDT has repeatedly said that the ITU, as a government-dominated institution, is ill-suited to make policy for the Internet; the recent briefing further illustrated the body's limitations.

Economic Impact of the ITRs

CDT's latest paper on the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications warns that expanding the ITU's jurisdiction to matters of Internet policy could have dire implications for economic growth and development in countries around the world. We've added this latest analysis to our growing page of ITU resources.

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