Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, speaking at Fordham Law on May 13, said that privacy considerations should be put into every app and connected device sold if consumers are going to regain trust in their products.
“A recent study by the Pew Research Center revealed that 91 percent of those surveyed believe that consumers have lost control over how information is collected and used,” she said.
“Our shared challenge is to build consumer trust by insuring that consumers have control over their personal information, while also reaping benefits of emerging technologies.”
Ramirez’ speech was the keynote address for “Solving Privacy Around the World,” a daylong symposium sponsored by the Center for Information Law and Privacy (CLIP). Panels covered topics such as “Apps and Start-Ups,” “Security & Trust,” “Infrastructure and Compliance,” and “Consent Models and Technological Complexity.”
Ramirez noted that although the iPhone was introduced less than a decade ago, half of all adults worldwide have a smart phone today. These and other devices generate tremendous amounts of data that can be bought, sold, and exploited by unscrupulous actors, many of who divide consumers into categories based on their race, ethnicity, income, and socioeconomic status. This has the potential to affect what consumers see online, the prices they’re quoted for services, and the level of consumer service they receive.
“In the not too distant future, many … aspects of our everyday lives will have a digital trail, and that data trove will contain a wealth of revealing information, that will present a deeply personal and startling complete picture of each of us,” she said.
“If a consumer uses a fitness band which records her heart rate, level of activity each day, and other details, she may not understand that the information could be shared with third parties … even insurers.”
She recommended several strategies for businesses to pursue to regain consumer trust. One of them, “Privacy by Design,” integrates privacy into product development and maintenance and is epitomized by data minimization—when companies only hold onto data they absolutely need and destroy it when it’s no longer of use.
Many argue that the value of data to businesses lies in its unanticipated uses in the future, but Ramirez said privacy is more important.
“I question the notion that we must put sensitive consumer data at risk on the chance that a company may someday discover a valuable use for that information,” she said.
She advocated letting consumers have greater control over their privacy, so they are more aware of how data is shared among brokers and marketing firms. The FTC’s research has indicated that few people are aware of these practices.
Businesses also need to do a better job safeguarding customers’ personal information. Security measures should be tested before a product launch, requiring consumers to change the password from default and considering the use of encryption.
“We have [to]ensure that new technologies that have the potential to provide enormous benefits develop in a way that also protect consumer information,” she said.