As Leibowitz Steps Down, Consumer Watchdog Says Next FTC Chair Must Focus On Do Not Track Legislation, Data Brokers and ‘Wild West’ Of Mobile Devices

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WASHINGTON, DC – Consumer Watchdog Friday outlined three priorities focused on consumer privacy that must be emphasized by the next chair of the Federal Trade Commission as Jon Leibowitz stepped down from the agency after four years on the job.

"Jon Leibowitz made the FTC relevant to consumers during his tenure, though he fell far short on antitrust protection and relied on self-regulation too much," said John M. Simpson, director of the public interest group’s Privacy Project. "The next chair must emphasize getting Congress to pass Do Not Track legislation, enacting rules to regulate data brokers and taming the 'Wild West' of mobile devices and apps."

Last March the FTC issued its report Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change, which called for the implementation of a Do Not Track mechanism. Instead of seeking legislation to implement Do Not Track, the FTC relied on voluntary efforts such as that by the Internet standards setting organization called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Earlier this week Consumer Watchdog said that after more than a year the W3C effort was dead in the water and called on the FTC to seek Do Not Track legislation.  Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to Chairman Leibowitz here.

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is running a similar "multistakeholder" process to develop a code to implement transparency about data use by mobile apps.

"The pace there is glacial and they are only talking about a code that would cover just one of the points in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights announced last spring by the White House," said Simpson. "The next FTC chair must step up and get the commission to seek legislation. It’s the only way to drive things forward."

The FTC's privacy report called for legislation to regulate data brokers, but the agency has not been specific enough about what is needed, Consumer Watchdog said, and called for the next chair to press the issue.

"Jon Leibowitz tried to use the bully pulpit to push consumer privacy protection, but industry too often turned a deaf ear," said Simpson. "The next chair needs to speak softly and carry a big stick – legislation."

According to Reuters, there are four people who are considered most likely to replace Leibowitz. They include fellow commissioners Julie Brill and Edith Ramirez, and Howard Shelanski, the director of the FTC's Bureau of Economics. The fourth potential candidate is Philip Weiser, a veteran of the White House and Justice Department, who now teaches law at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

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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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