Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez on Monday issued a stern warning to U.S. companies that house vast amounts of consumers’ personal data: Watch out.
Speaking at the Technology Policy Institute’s annual conference in Aspen, Colo., Ramirez said the FTC is keeping a close eye on “big data” companies, and is ready to take action when consumer privacy is under threat.
“The FTC recognizes that the effective use of big data has the potential to unleash a new wave of productivity and growth,” Ramirez said in her prepared remarks. “Like the lifeguard at the beach, though, the FTC will remain vigilant to ensure that while innovation pushes forward, consumer privacy is not engulfed by that wave.”
Ramirez pointed to privacy suits the FTC brought against Google Inc., Facebook Inc., and others during the past few years.
In 2012, Google reached a record $22.5 million settlement with the FTC to resolve charges that it misled users of Apple Inc.’s Safari web browser into believing that it wouldn’t put tracking cookies on their computers. Facebook last year also agreed to settle charges that it misled its users about their privacy, saying they could keep their information private. The social media giant didn’t pay a penalty, but the FTC required the company to have biennial privacy audits and take other steps intended to protect users’ privacy.
Additionally, the FTC plans to release a report this year about “data brokers,” which gather consumer information to develop meticulous profiles of individuals, Ramirez said.
And she said the agency is looking to do more.
The FTC is pushing Congress for the power to secure civil penalties against businesses that “fail to maintain reasonable security,” Ramirez said. The agency also is urging Congress to pass “baseline privacy legislation” that would increase transparency about companies’ collection of user information, among other goals, she added.
“Addressing the privacy challenges of big data is first and foremost the responsibility of those collecting and using consumer information,” Ramirez said. “The time has come for businesses to move their data collection and use practices out of the shadows and into the sunlight. But the FTC has a critical role to play as well.”