News Byte: FTC Commish Tells Consumers to Police Their Own Privacy

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Ohlhausen: Privacy options stir competition.
Ohlhausen: Privacy options stir competition.

Taking questions from citizens in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on Nov. 1, FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen suggested that consumers dump a service if they take issue with its data collection policies and that differing menus of privacy options could stir competition in the marketplace.

Addressing a question about how small businesses can afford the high cost of safeguarding their data, Ohlhausen responded, “In the long run, NOT implementing reasonable data security can wind up costing small businesses even more.”

In response to a questioner wanting to know how to react when a company changed its privacy policy, Ohlhausen noted that the FTC requires companies to notify consumers if their personal information was going to be used in a different way. “If consumers object to the changed terms, “ she continued, “they can look for other products and services in the market that offer privacy terms they prefer.”

Indeed, the commissioner predicted that privacy terms may soon join product/service quality and pricing in the list of key purchase attributes. “It seems like companies are starting to compete on their privacy terms more frequently and I applaud this development,” she wrote.

As news broke that the National Security Agency was tapping into the data warehouses of Google and Yahoo, several questioners posed questions relating to the government's access to personally identifiable information. After qualifying that the FTC has jurisdiction over commercial privacy, not government privacy, Ohlhuasen added that “it's critical that policy makers act thoughtfully and appropriately to balance appropriate privacy concerns with the important job of protecting American citizens.”

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