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

Future Tense
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

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.”


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.



The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.