Under Ramirez, the FTC has aggressively pursued companies over privacy and security missteps.
Under Ramirez, the FTC has aggressively pursued companies over privacy and security missteps.

Known as a tough regulator who's used her agency's consumer protection mandate to hold companies that experienced breaches to greater security standards, Edith Ramirez said Friday that she would step down as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as a new administration moves into the White House.

Ramirez expressed her appreciation for having “played a role in advancing American consumers' ability to navigate fast-paced digital markets and promoting business competition across the economy.”

Her proponents praise her for the same. “Under Edith Ramirez, the FTC has been most effective in managing technological innovation with consumer protection, particularly when it comes to privacy,” Trevor Hughes, president and CEO of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), told SC Media.

Calling the FTC chief a “strong leader,” Hughes said Ramirez's approach is smart and pragmatic “without a lot of puffery and ego” that can be found among those who wield power in government.

Ramirez, who joined agency in 2010 and assumed the top spot March 4, 2013, leaves a legacy of strong enforcement – bringing to bear close to 400 law enforcement actions and about 100 enforcement actions challenging anticompetitive mergers and business conduct – and expanded the agency's mandate to provide regulatory guidance and enforcement for the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data.

Under her leadership, the FTC distinguished itself as a champion of improving security practices, holding companies like Google, Sony and Twitter accountable for privacy and security missteps.

It delivered its most severe fine to AT&T – $100 million – and won an important victory in court against Wyndham Hotels that established the agency's authority to take enforcement actions against companies for unreasonable data security practices.

That authority has been questioned by some of the companies that have landed in the FTC's crosshairs. And the agency has been called out for a paucity of clear guidelines, making it harder for companies to comply.

President Obama lent even greater legitimacy to the FTC's authority in January 2015 when he chose to appear at the Commission in preface to his State of the Union Address to announce his plans to call for a both Personal Data Notification and Protection Act and a Student Data Privacy Act.

Obama praised the FTC, saying he “wanted to start here, at the FTC, because every day you take the lead in making sure that Americans, their hard-earned money and their privacy are protected, especially when they go online” and acknowledging “that's pretty much for everything: managing our bank accounts, paying our bills, handling everything from medical records to movie tickets, controlling our homes – smart houses, from smart phones.” 

Ramirez's departure on February 10 will leave three vacancies on the five-member FTC panel of commissioners.