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Data Privacy Takes Priority for FTC Chief as Dems Break Deadlock

June 9, 2022, 4:01 AM

Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan expects to have “a busy summer” now that the leadership panel’s membership is filled out, with consumer data protections among her policy priorities.

Professor Alvaro Bedoya’s recent addition to the FTC breaks a partisan deadlock and gives Khan the Democratic votes needed to launch a rulemaking that is expected to put limits on companies’ collection and use of consumer data and set standards for how such data must be secured.

Khan said the commission is “considering next steps” toward regulating what she’s dubbed “commercial surveillance practices.”

“This is a top area of priority for us,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.

Writing data protection rules is poised to be a years-long and potentially contentious process for the FTC. Pursuing privacy priorities alongside an aggressive antitrust agenda presents a challenge for Khan, who must rely on the agency’s limited resources and stay within the confines of its authority over consumer protection.

Bedoya joined the FTC in May after months-long delays on his nomination and a partisan split in his Senate confirmation vote.

He brings a background in privacy and data security, with a focus on facial recognition technology, and he wants to strengthen protections for children’s digital data.

As the FTC ponders potential regulatory changes, the commission has engaged in data-related enforcement actions during Khan’s tenure as chair. Last month, it reached a $150 million settlement with Twitter Inc. over the social media giant’s alleged misuse of users’ phone numbers, uploaded for security purposes, to target advertising. It’s also settled allegations of children’s privacy violations with online advertising platform OpenX Technologies Inc. and WW International Inc.

Privacy Legislation

The commission also is closely following bipartisan efforts in Congress to adopt a national privacy law, Khan said.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to hold a hearing June 14 on the latest draft privacy bill, proposed after years of stalled negotiations.

Khan didn’t weigh in on the proposal, saying the FTC doesn’t want to insert itself into the legislative process. She added that the agency offers technical assistance to lawmakers when needed and stands ready to enforce any new privacy law.

The draft measure from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) includes a focus on children’s data. It lacks support from Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who has floated her own draft privacy bill that would prevent companies from forcing consumers to settle privacy claims out of court.

Children’s data also is on the agency’s agenda with a pending update to the commission’s rules for following the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA.

Khan didn’t detail a timeline for issuing a COPPA proposal.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at avittorio@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Meghashyam Mali at mmali@bloombergindustry.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com