The FTC Is Trying to Convince You That Your Personal Data Is Safe in the Marketplace

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 1 2014 3:12 PM

The FTC Is Trying to Convince You That Your Personal Data Is Safe in the Marketplace

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Is this an insecure transaction?

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It's hard to ignore the major customer data breaches that have occurred at corporations over the last few months. Target and Neiman Marcus were a big tip of an even bigger iceberg. But the Federal Trade Commission doesn't want consumers to feel like the only way they can protect themselves is by avoiding digital transactions. Especially because that’s basically impossible these days. So what’s the FTC doing about it?

In a new “Privacy and Data Security Update,” the agency outlines its recourse and methods of enforcement against companies that violate laws or don’t take steps to protect consumer data. The report explains, “In all of its privacy work, the FTC’s goals have remained constant: to protect consumers’ personal information and ensure that consumers have the confidence to take advantage of the many benefits offered in the marketplace.”

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In the past year, the FTC has launched numerous privacy cases—more than 130 spam and spyware cases and 40 broad privacy suits—and has used its enforcement power to work on addressing security problems related to things like spam, social networking, spyware, and peer-to-peer file sharing. The report also talks about policing companies to ensure that they take safe and effective data security measures, especially when it comes to financial information and credit reports. When companies don’t comply with laws about privacy policy notifications for customers, for example, the FTC works to bring a suit against them. The FTC also works on Do Not Call, strict laws for protecting children’s privacy, and public outreach to educate consumers.

It’s good to see the FTC’s efforts outlined in one place, but the report would be more helpful if the agency included topics or areas of interest where they still want to improve. Clearly, data security is still a serious problem in the marketplace and it’s hard to feel reassured without more information about what the FTC thinks it could improve. Of course it’s the job of the companies who hold the data to keep it safe, but as the regulatory and enforcement agency the FTC is the agency consumers want to trust.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

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