Who’s Minding Your Business? The FTC Invites You to Comment on Commercial Surveillance and Data Security

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Many of us have grown used to the idea that companies constantly collect information about us as we go about our daily lives. It may be information we give up willingly, like a credit card number for a purchase. But it also may be information that we don’t know we’re surrendering, and may not want to share. Companies are able to collect enormous amounts of personal data about virtually every conceivable aspect of our lives, often in ways that we might not expect or understand.

The FTC calls this “commercial surveillance,” and it’s the subject of the Commission’s newly announced Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. In this Notice, the FTC asks for your comments about data practices that you might believe are unfair or deceptive, and how the FTC can best address those practices.

The Notice offers lots of food for thought. Among other things, it discusses the wide range of personal data that companies collect, including information as varied as our movements, friend networks, menstrual cycles, web browsing, and faces, and how companies might use that information to draw conclusions about us.

The Notice also discusses how companies collect, store, and manage personal data. Data is often collected in ways that are unclear or invisible to people. Or, data may be collected for one purpose, but then also used for another purpose that people don’t expect. People’s information is so valuable that companies have incentives to collect information they don’t need, and to keep that information indefinitely, heightening the potential harms from a data breach if companies fail to secure the data.

Read the Notice for more information about the issues the FTC is examining. Section IV contains the questions the Commission invites people to address. The Notice will be published in the Federal Register soon. Once it appears, you’ll have 60 days to file a public comment. Section V of the Notice includes detailed instructions on how to do that. To save some time, file online at www.regulations.gov.

On September 8, the Commission also will hold a virtual public forum focused on commercial surveillance practices. Learn more about the forum on the Commercial Surveillance and Data Security ANPR Public Forum page.