In its final report, the agency urged companies to police themselves, but said government intervention is also needed.
The Federal Trade Commission is
putting pressure on both Congress and tech companies to take actions to protect
user privacy and give them more information on how their personal data is
collected and used.
In its final report
, released March 26, the FTC takes
aim at vendors whose mobile devices, apps and services collect the personal
information of users in the name of giving those users more of what they want.
However, the federal agency said it shouldnt come at a greater cost to those
"In todays world of
smartphones, smart grids, and smart cars, companies are collecting, storing,
and sharing more information about consumers than ever before," the FTC
said in its report. "Although companies use this information to innovate
and deliver better products and services to consumers, they should not do so at
the expense of consumer privacy."
The FTCs report comes at a time of
heightened debate around the issue of user privacy. Large Internet companies
like Google and Facebook are coming under fire from users and legislators alike
for the amount of personal data they collect, which is then used to help
advertisers personalize the ads they send to users.
Apple and Google also have both been
criticized for allowing iPhones and Android smartphones to share personal
informationincluding photos and contactswith mobile apps that are downloaded
onto the devices.
Some in the government already have
been pushing for greater privacy rights for users. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.,
has been a vocal critic over the past few years, and earlier this month asked the FTC
to look into the most recent issues
surrounding Apple and Google and the data-stealing apps. "These uses go
well beyond what a reasonable user understands himself to be consenting to when
he allows an app to access data on the phone for purposes of the app's
functionality," Schumer said in a letter to the FTC.
In late February, the Obama administration
released a proposed bill of rights
designed to protect
consumer privacy online, including enabling users to easily tell Internet
companies with a single click whether they want their online activity tracked.
It also called for limits on the amount of personal data online companies can
collect and retain, and for consumers to be able to access and verify the data.
In its report, Protecting Consumer
Privacy in the Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and
Policymakers, the FTC wants the industry to develop policies and practices
that err on the side of caution when dealing with consumer privacy. However,
the commissioners are not relying solely on the good intentions of vendors,
calling on Congress to enact general privacy legislation as well as laws around
data security and breach notification.
They also urged lawmakers to pass
laws concerning data brokers, who buy and consolidate consumer information.
"If companies adopt our final
recommendations for best practicesand many of them already havethey will be
able to innovate and deliver creative new services that consumers can enjoy
without sacrificing their privacy," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a
statement. "We are confident that consumers will have an easy to use and
effective Do Not Track option by the end of the year because companies are
moving forward expeditiously to make it happen and because lawmakers will want
to enact legislation if they don't."
The commissioners laid out several
recommendations for companies to follow, including building consumer privacy
into every step they take as they develop products and services. This privacy
by design approach would include putting in reasonable security for consumer
data, limiting the data that could be collected and retained, and developing
policies to ensure data accuracy.
They also want businesses to offer
both consumer and businesses the ability to decide what personal information is
shared and with whom. This would include a do-not-track mechanism, the FTC
said. In addition, companies need to be clearer about how they collect and use
consumer data, and enable users to access that data.