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FTC

Sen. Marsha Blackburn Scolds Big Tech For Extracting Data and Calls for Greater Transparency

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WASHINGTON, June 27, 2019 – The framework for federal privacy regulation is emerging as another flashpoint in some conservatives’ political battles with Silicon Valley powerhouses.

In particular Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn said Wednesday that technology companies are using the complexity of their platforms to justify lack of transparency regarding how they are using consumers’ data.

“The more data companies extract, the more profitable they are,” she said, speaking at a keynote address to the generally free-market group Free State Foundation.

“Big tech needs to trust the American consumer to make the wise decision, which means big tech needs to be transparent,” said Blackburn.

Many at the event endorsed the call for privacy regulation. Privacy violations can result in consumer harm in the marketplace, harms which should be “identified, analyzed and potentially regulated,” said Noah Phillips, Commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission. Congress should “move cautiously” to ensure that consumers have more accessible information to make informed decisions.

Because data use and collection are “vital” for the economy, any new privacy law must allow room for growth and innovation as well as “investment and risk-taking”, he said.

The consensus among policymakers and consumers is that they need to provide consumers control of their personal information with a “neutral all-encompassing federal privacy law,” said Kelly Cole, senior vice president of government affairs at Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association.

The sharing of personal data must be done “carefully and approximately,” said Cole, otherwise consumers may “turn away” from innovating technology that may benefit them. The FTC, she said, has the “right expertise” to develop strong and robust privacy rules to ensure consumers “keep coming back.”

There is “no way” to opt out of data collection anymore, said Michelle Richardson, director at the Center for Democracy and Technology. She argued that Congress needs to rebalance power between companies and consumers and set “clear lines and boundaries” to determine what kind of data sharing is inappropriate.

“People would be shocked to hear how little their personal data is worth,” she said.  ”There are many ways to process data in innovative ways, we should also expect very advanced privacy policies.”

Legislation should give the FTC limited rule making authority and additional resources to help grow the internet ecosystem, said Lynn Follansbee, vice president of law and policy at US Telecom. A strong, national privacy framework, she said, will balance the need for clear protections for American consumers and allow “unparalleled” innovation.

Consumers should have “meaningful transparency” regardless of where they are and what product or service they are using, said Loretta Polk, vice president and deputy general counsel of NCTA, an association of cable and broadband operators. The work that the FTC is doing now can help shape the legislation’s framework.

“Parity ensures consistent privacy protection for consumers in the digital marketplace, regardless of the entity they interact with,” she said.

(Photo of Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s keynote address at the Free State Foundation event.)

Antitrust

Republican FTC Commissioner Criticizes Biden Economic Officials as Detrimental to Agency

Commissioner Christine Wilson attributes poor results of FTC staff satisfaction surveys to the officials’ leadership.

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Photo of Christine Wilson, Randolph May, Noah Phillips and Maureen Ohlhausen

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2022 – On Friday Republican commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission Christine Wilson expanded upon released remarks criticizing the leadership of economic officials chosen by President Joe Biden as detrimental to the functioning of her agency and staff.

Wilson pointed to recently administered surveys of FTC staff on satisfaction in their jobs which showed historically poor results for the commission, saying attitudes towards the commission and its work peddled by its Chair Lina Khan, former commissioner and current director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Rohit Chopra and Biden’s special assistant for technology and competition policy Tim Wu are largely to blame for low staff morale.

“We saw Chair Khan’s arrival and a complete disregard for the rule of law and due process, not to mention complete disregard for staff,” said Wilson.

“We saw Commissioner Rohit Chopra arrive at the FTC and begin excoriating the agency and the commission and the staff as being lax and feckless for the last 40 years.”

Speaking at the Free State Foundation’s Annual Policy Conference with fellow Republican Commissioner Noah Phillips and former Republican chairwoman of the commission Maureen Ohlhausen, Wilson cast the commission as an entity in disarray.

She revealed a workplace where commissioners have often been given very little notice on items they will be considering on the agenda of the commission.

Ohlhausen noted a decrease in bipartisan activity from the commission that she felt was present as a long-lasting legacy of commissions past during her tenure as chair, and Wilson described “disdain and marginalization of staff by current leadership” as harmful to the environment at the commission.

Drawing on her recent remarks, Wilson hypothesized that new leadership’s economic worldview draws heavily on concepts from academic Marxism and critical legal studies, a school of thought of which the Republican-maligned critical race theory is an offshoot.

She states that these theories largely play into the view of new leadership that the FTC in the past has not brought nearly enough action to protect consumers.

Also on Friday, Wilson emphasized the need for federal privacy legislation and said she has heard of a “concerted push” in Congress for such legislation to pass soon.

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FTC

Biden Looks to Bedoya to Replace Rohit Chopra on FTC, Report Says

Staunch privacy advocate Alvaro Bedoya appears to be Joe Biden’s pick for the FTC, Axios reports.

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Staunch privacy advocate Alvaro Bedoya appears to be Joe Biden's pick for the FTC

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021—President Joe Biden is expected to bring on privacy stalwart Alvaro Bedoya for the open seat on the Federal Trade Commission, according to reporting from Axios.

Born in Peru and raised in New York, Bedoya attended Harvard University where he received his B.A. in Social Studies. He also holds a J.D. from Yale.

A longtime supporter of consumer privacy rights, Bedoya is the founding director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law. Previously, he served as chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. While working in the Senate, much of his work centered on location and biometric privacy with regard to consumer protections.

As it stands now, there are three Democrats and two Republicans on the commission. In January of 2021, Biden tapped Rohit Chopra to serve as the Director of the Consumer Protection Bureau. Though Chopra’s term on the FTC expired in 2019, the commission allows incumbent members to sit until a replacement is appointed—in this case, Bedoya.

The Washington Post quoted Republican FTC commissioner Noah Phillips speaking fondly of Bedoya. “I don’t think of him as a person who just gets up and rants about entities he doesn’t like,” and described him as “without fail as bright and thoughtful a person as you could find.”

Phillips has been broadly critical of the direction he feels the FTC is going and has historically criticized political firebrands on both sides of the aisle.

As Big Tech faces mounting criticism from both Republicans and Democrats with regard to privacy, misinformation, and alleged censorship, Bedoya will be entering a tumultuous era for the FTC.

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Antitrust

FTC Commissioner Phillips Warns About Shifting Direction of Agency

Noah Phillips voiced concern about the scope and practices of the Biden administration’s FTC.

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FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips

WASHINGTON, September 2, 2021 — Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips said at a Hudson Institute webinar on Monday that he’s concerned about the direction the competition watchdog is moving toward considering recent events.

Phillips said the left-leaning voices in Washington and the appointment of Lina Khan to chair the agency has left him wondering about the legacy of the last 40 years of competition regulation in America – which have been hallmarked by the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976. That legislation effectively gave the FTC the ability to review mergers and acquisitions before they were finalized, rather than afterward, which governed pre-legislation.

Under Biden-appointee Lina Khan, Phillips described how the FTC has done away with the process of early termination. In the past, this process made it unnecessary for every single company to provide advanced notice and advanced approval for mergers. “Historically, parties have been able to come to the agencies and say, ‘You’re not interested in this, can we just go ahead and finish our deal,’ and the agencies have said ‘yes.’”

He said this is no longer the case, and that every single merger must provide advanced notice and approval. “What we’re introducing is an inefficiency in the market for transactions that we have no interest in pursuing, just for the sake of it. I think that’s a problem,” he continued. “My concern is that it is making merger enforcement less effective, less efficient, and less fair.”

Phillips pointed to left-of-center and leftist voices in Congress, such as Rep. David Cicilline, D-New York, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, who, at the outset of the pandemic, wanted to ban all acquisitions and mergers—regardless of their merit. He described this view as falling outside of mainstream perspectives, but noteworthy nonetheless.

“I don’t think that is what most people believe,” Phillips remarked. “I don’t think that is what Hart-Scott-Rodino envisions.”

This webinar took place only a couple of weeks after Phillips spoke at the Technology Policy Institute’s 2021 Aspen Forum, where he voiced similar concerns, stating that he feared that this new direction would make it more difficult for the FTC to hear cases that it should, and defended the commission’s record against critics who said it was lax under the Trump Administration.

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