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FTC writing new internet rules to safeguard users’ search, health and location data

The Federal Trade Commission is working on new Internet privacy rules that will affect the collection, analysis and sale of people’s data, rather than waiting for Congress to pass commercial oversight legislation.

Private companies monitoring people’s web browsing and purchase history, location and movements, health data and other information urged the independent body to pursue new regulations.

A deadline closed on Monday for the public to comment on how the agency should write new rules that could dramatically change businesses’ activities and people’s online lives, meaning one obstacle left unchecked by the federal government in drawing up the rules.

FTC Chair Lina Khan said her team was working to determine whether unfair and misleading data practices warranted the federal government making new “market-wide rules” instead of addressing issues on a case-by-case basis.

“Companies collect data about where we go, what we read, who we meet, what we buy, and research has suggested that many Americans have limited understanding of what information is collected about them and how it is used, sold, or stored. that even if people do know, they may have no choice but to participate in these practices,” Ms Khan said at a rally in September.

Ms Khan said the collection of large amounts of data coincided with hacks and leaks and other security vulnerabilities that exposed people’s information that could lead to identity theft, discrimination and other harms.

The FTC is concerned not only with how people’s data is collected, but how it is analyzed and stored. An FTC fact sheet on the upcoming rules said the agency is concerned about algorithms that examine people’s behavior and how companies sell such information to advertisers.

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The agency published an advance notice of proposed regulations (ANPR) in the Federal Register in August, receiving nearly 1,000 responses before Monday’s deadline.

Opponents and skeptics of the agency’s plan argue that the FTC’s proposal is unreasonably broad and unjustifiable.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau said the FTC is about to make sweeping changes without clearly explaining what the government plans to do. The agency said it represents more than 700 companies, and its website says its list of general members includes prominent companies such as CNN, Fox News, Google, Twitter, TikTok, Taco Bell, Comcast and Best Buy.

“While the ANPR attempts to focus on two key practices, ‘commercial oversight’ and ‘lax data security’, these practices are defined so broadly that it is almost impossible to understand the areas of concern to the Commission,” wrote the bureau to the FTC earlier this month.

The agency said the FTC’s definition of commercial oversight could include any online activity that uses consumer data, which the agency says would encompass “nearly every sector of the economy.”

Other critics said the FTC lacked proper authority to issue such regulations.

The libertarian-leaning R Street Institute said the FTC’s proposal went far beyond what Congress has authorized.

“Unlike acting under the narrower mind of Congress for the FTC, the ANPR 95 asks questions on a wide variety of issues, from biometrics to targeted advertising,” according to the R Street Institute. “The themes of the rules may extend even further, as the ANPR states that it does not identify the full scope of possible approaches the FTC could take with a rule.”

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Federal lawmakers have tried to push new privacy laws, but have been unsuccessful. Representatives Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican, introduced the U.S. Data Privacy and Protection Act in June, which aims to minimize the collection of people’s data, enable people to disable ads and create a new privacy office within the FTC.

The bill ran into a roadblock from Senate Democrats, with Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell saying there was no chance her fellow Democrats would put the bill to a vote.

If Congress decides to rethink privacy legislation next year, Ms. Khan has made it clear that the FTC will reevaluate its actions, but she wasn’t about to stop without robust new rules.

“If Congress passes strict federal privacy legislation — which I hope it does — or if there is another significant change in applicable law, the Commission could reassess the added value of this effort and whether continuing it is a good practice. . of resources,” Ms. Khan wrote in an August entry in the Federal Register.

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