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FTC’s annual PrivacyCon focuses on consumer privacy and security issues

Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security FTC Consumer Protection Artificial Intelligence Dark Patterns Enforcement

Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

On November 1, the FTC held its annual PrivacyCon event, which hosted research presentations on a wide range of consumer privacy and security issues. Opening the event, FTC Chair Lina Khan stressed the importance of hearing from the academic community on topics related to a range of privacy issues that the FTC and other government bodies may miss. Khan emphasized that regulators cannot wait until new technologies fully emerge to think of ways to implement new laws for safeguarding consumers. “The FTC needs to be on top of this emerging industry now, before problematic business models have time to solidify,” Khan said, adding that the FTC is consistently working on privacy matters and is “prioritizing the use of creative ideas from academia in [its] bread-and-butter work” to craft better remedies to reflect what is actually happening. She highlighted a recent enforcement action taken against an online alcohol marketplace and its CEO for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent two major data breaches (covered by InfoBytes here). Khan noted that while the settlement’s requirements, such as imposing multi-factor authentication requirements and destroying unneeded user data, may not sound “very cutting-edge” they serve as a big step forward for government enforcers. Chief Technology Officer Stephanie Nguyen, who is responsible for leading the charge to integrate technologists across the FTC’s various lines of work, including consumer privacy, discussed the work of these technologists (including AI and security experts, software engineers, designers, and data scientists) to help develop remedies in data security-related enforcement actions and to push companies to not just do the minimum to remediate areas like unreasonable data security but to model best practices for the industry. “We want to see bad actors face real consequences,” Nguyen said, adding that the FTC wants to hold corporate leadership accountable as it did in the enforcement action Khan cited. Nguyen further stressed that there is also a need to address systemic risk by making companies delete illegally collected data and destroy any algorithms derived from the data.

The one-day conference featured several panel sessions covering a number of topics related to consumer surveillance, automated decision-making systems, children’s privacy, devices that listen to users, augmented/virtual reality, interfaces and dark patterns, and advertising technology. Topics addressed during the panels include (i) requiring data brokers to provide accurate information; (ii) understanding how data inaccuracies can disproportionately affect minorities and those living in poverty, and why relying on this data can lead to discriminatory practices; (iii) examining bias and discrimination risks when engaging in emotional artificial intelligence; (iv) understanding automated decision making systems and how the quality of these systems impact populations they are meant to represent; (v) recognizing the lack of transparency related to children’s data collection and use, and the impact various privacy laws, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, the General Data Protection Regulation, and the California Consumer Privacy Act, have on the collection/use/sharing of personal data; (vi) recognizing challenges related to cookie-consent interfaces and dark patterns; and (vii) examining how targeted online advertising both in the U.S. and abroad affects consumers.

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