Senate Democrats are calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to solve the “data privacy crisis” brewing in the United States. In a letter published Monday, September 20, 2021, they asked the FTC to begin a “rule making process” to achieve a host of ends.
The letter begins with the assertation that consumer privacy has become a consumer crisis. It states that Big Tech companies have used their “unchecked access” to personal data for questionable ends. These include creating profiles on nearly every US citizen and suppressing startups in anti-competitive behavior.
Congress has tried to create a more extensive legislature on online privacy in the past. However, as the Verge points out, partisan divides made that difficult.
The letter is quite broad, covering a number of concerns briefly. It’ll be some time before it’s clear whether the FTC will do anything—longer still to see what might be.
Bargains, Brokers, and Background Checks
The uses of mass data are numerous. The most common one is for targeted advertising and optimizing offers in corporations. Many argue that the former is manipulative because it could goad customers into spending more than they would.
This is the “in-house” usage. However, as the letter mentions, data brokers commonly collect data and sell it. The information could then feed people search sites and background check databases. Such uses are still legal, albeit under heavy scrutiny.
The reason for this is that highly sensitive data is also vulnerable to malicious activity like ID theft. The letter places emphasis on corporations. It states that FTC action “will ensure that Americans have every tool at their disposal to protect their privacy in today’s online marketplace.”
In theory, sweeping protections should allow citizens to defend themselves from any threats. They already have access to tools like VPNs. However, the letter is most likely referring to other, more substantive tools. These include, for example, legal mechanisms that citizens or the government can use to ensure compliance with data laws.
For its part, the FTC voted in July to update its rulemaking procedures and make it easier to issue privacy rules autonomously. With the speed tech is progressing at, it is a must to ensure that legislation can keep up.