Sunday, February 10, 2013

US Federal Trade Commission a Paper Tiger? Jon Leibowitz Resigns as F.T.C. Chairman Effective February 15, 2013 and No Replacement in Place

We have been quite disappointed in recent years at the limited effectiveness of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in protecting online privacy rights and we read at the FTC and in various news reports, also at the New York Times, that Jon Leibowitz [has resigned] as F.T.C. Chairman effective February 15, 2013.

Is this because his protective efforts have been politically thwarted?

In an optimally functioning system of government, an FTC chairmanship successor would already be in place, ensuring that this important federal agency has uninterrupted leadership to continue to conduct its important work.

However, political partisanship may be an issue here, where it has no business being. See Ed Silverstein at TechZone360 in Could Be Partisan Bickering over Who Will Replace Leibowitz on FTC.

We ourselves care not what political party or gender the new Chairperson has, but we expect people to be EFFECTIVE, especially in protecting the Internet privacy rights of users.

See FTC Issues Performance and Accountability Report for Fiscal Year 2012 and the the text of the report at Federal Trade Commission Performance and Accountability Report (Fiscal Year 2012), which states:
Consumer Privacy
The FTC protects consumer privacy through policy work, law enforcement, and consumer and business education. In March 2012, the Commission issued a final report outlining best practices for businesses to protect the privacy of American consumers and give them greater control over the collection and use of their personal data. The FTC also brought actions charging that Facebook and Google did not keep promises they made about privacy. Settlement orders in both cases protect more than one billion users worldwide."
We see no evidence of settlement compliance follow-up at the FTC. This is surprising for an agency of reportedly over 1000 staff.

At Facebook this settlement apparently has had little significant impact on privacy rights violations that occur due to opt-ins and opt-outs which are so confusing that recently even a Zuckerberg family member complained about publication of private photos beyond the intended audience.

The so-called "settlement" with Facebook is particularly aggravating since it did not even amount to a fine, which should have been assessed in considerable amount against the company for in part outrageous privacy rights violations that in Europe have resulted in take-down sanctions by regulators.

For the situation in the USA, see David Munkittrick at the Privacy Law Blog in Shaking Up the Settlement Process: FTC Reconsiders Whether Companies Can Deny Wrongdoing While Settling Privacy Violation Claims.

We have pointed out that, that in our opinion, Facebook is currently and openly violating privacy rights in violation of the settlement agreement reached with the FTC, and the FTC is apparently doing nothing about it.

This is now not surprising, given the situation at the FTC.

The leader of the FTC is going and no new leader is there to take the reigns.
What can be expected of such a leaderless government organization?

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