Yes, Virginia, there is privacy (I hope)
Yes, Virginia, there is privacy (I hope)

Just two months after President Obama praised the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for its aggressive enforcement efforts and call for a national data breach notification law, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez  referred to “the focus he has placed on privacy” as “tremendous,” before detailing  the commission's goals, particularly data security, sussing out the connections between a data-driven world and fraud and cross-device tracking.

The latter, in which companies try to identify devices a consumer uses across different platforms generally for marketing purposes, has grown to such prominence on the FTC's agenda that the agency will hold a workshop in the fall to explore issues and address concerns around it.

At the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Privacy Summit in Washington Thursday, Ramirez had some cautionary words for critics of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act recently proposed by the White House, saying that while she's concerned about its vagaries, potential loopholes and enforceability, the bill is “a discussion document” meant to stimulate the creation of a more robust law. For instance, the bill would pre-empt state laws but is not enforceable for two years. 

“The gap created is something I find concerning,” she said, and would have to be addressed.

When asked her views on self-regulation, which some have suggested as a solution to fill gaps in the regulatory landscape and others have ridiculed, she called it “a complement to the enforcement work done at the agency.”

With no comprehensive, modernized legislation around privacy and data protection materializing, particular under a Congress that has moved on very little, the body of FTC rulings and actions has created a common law of sorts that serves to create guidelines and boundaries for how companies can use and should safeguard data.

Although some criticize uneven enforcement efforts, the agency has had a string of successes bringing companies into line. Contending that the agency is “well-suited” to defend privacy, Ramirez said the FTC continues to draw from academia and the private sector to build a highly skilled, expert team to inform its policies and actions.

The agency has stayed true to its guiding principle to protect the consumer, she noted, which has clarified its mission, policies and courses of action.

She is not concerned so much with technology, she said, but what companies are doing with it and how that might run counter to consumer interest.

Though focused on the consumer, the FTC also thinks a great deal “about the signals we're sending to the marketplace” with its actions, she said, in what should come as a big relief to business. 

“Economics plays a big role in what we do,” she said.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect that Ramirez was speaking at the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Privacy Summit in Washington Thursday.