New FTC Chair Ramirez Outlines Privacy Stance

Won't shy away from enforcement actions

In her first public policy remarks since becoming chairman of the Federal Trade Commission on March 4, Edith Ramirez said Friday she plans to continue the agency’s work in shaping privacy policy to protect consumers, and wouldn’t back off on enforcement.

“We haven’t been shy about taking on the tech giants,” Ramirez said, referring to the agency’s 20-year consent decrees with both Google and Facebook. “That has been just tremendous. And that’s all, in my mind, vital and will continue.”

Over the last three years, the FTC has issued more than 50 enforcement actions on privacy and data enforcement, and no fewer than five major policy reports giving guidance to companies, Ramirez noted, obviously proud of the agency's achievements.

Enforcing children’s privacy will be a top priority, she said, especially with updates to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act going into effect July 1. “We want to make sure we’re fulfilling the mandate Congress set out for us. I personally feel quite proud of the work we did,” Ramirez said, adding that the FTC is working to finalize FAQs about the rule in order to guide companies “as soon as we can.”

Addressing the "Do Not Track" issue, Ramirez kept to the script the agency wrote under former chairman Jon Leibowitz. Expressing her support of Do Not Track as a “longstanding commitment,” Ramirez also suggested that any solution would require all the interested parties crafting a solution together, a position that should give some relief to the advertising industry’s self-regulatory initiatives.

“I’m optimistic there will be a solution, but all interested parties must come together for a solution that is consensus-based,” Ramirez said. “I’m happy there are so many tools available to consumers.”

Ramirez credited the agency for changing the privacy conversation at companies to adopt privacy-by-design policies. “Companies are taking privacy seriously,” Ramirez said.

Under Ramirez, the FTC will continue to concentrate on the mobile industry, but also will begin to look at Internet-connected devices such as refrigerators and cars.

“The reality is increasingly it won’t be long that everyday devices at home and at work will be capturing all kinds of information about how we behave. There are tremendous benefits to consumers, but also there are significant privacy questions it raises,” Ramirez said. “As these devices connect to the Internet, it’s more important for companies to take data security very seriously.”