FTC Commissioner Brill: Make privacy a basic consumer right

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Fifty years ago then President Kennedy spelled out what he considered four basic consumer rights.  Over the years four more were added. Now FTC Commissioner Julie Brill says its time to include another: Privacy.

She made her case speaking to the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), which I attended last week in Washington, DC. On the agenda was a session considering the question "Consumer Rights 50 Years On: Do these rights stand up in our modern age?"

Kennedy, you'll recall, said consumers have The Right to Safety, The Right to Be Informed, The Right to Chose and The Right to Be Heard. In 1985 the United Nations  endorsed the basic four and added four more: The Right to Satisfaction of Basic Needs, The Right to Redress, The Right to Consumer Education and The Right to Health Environment.

"One of the biggest differences I see between 1962 and the modern marketplace of 2012, is that marketing and advertising today is increasingly personal," said Brill. "With behavioral targeting and tracking, marketers now know highly personal details about consumers."

Rapid advances in technology and marketing practices have led Brill and the FTC to conclude that: "we are facing some potentially serious gaps in consumer privacy protection."  She offered this analysis and said it is time to modernize our framework for thinking about privacy:

— The old model of providing consumers with notice and choice about  
concerning information collection and use simply does not work.

— Privacy policies have become too legalistic, placing too great a burden on consumers to understand and make decisions about complex notions that are challenging even to experts in the field.

— When these policies and choices are presented on a mobile device’s small screen, the challenges are that much greater.

— Indeed, in 1970, not long after Kennedy’s speech, Congress passed a number of pieces of consumer protection legislation, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which was designed to address concerns about the collection and use of consumer data by the credit reporting industry. In today’s much more advanced technological age, where traditional credit reports are only one source of information about consumers used by creditors, employers, insurance companies and others, it is important that we consider whether this law, enacted 40 years ago, is sufficiently robust to protect consumers when companies are making substantial decisions about their lives.


Brill concluded with this call:

"My agency supports enactment of the Administration’s proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Fifty years after President Kennedy articulated the four basic rights that all consumers should enjoy, it is time to add this one – privacy – to the list."

I couldn't agree more.

John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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