By Tim Sparapani
There are a few things that are constant in this world: death, taxes, and the fact that every new administration rethinks regulations.
That can be a big problem, especially when it comes to consumer privacy rights. The rules that govern how companies collect, use and share consumers’ data shouldn’t ebb and flow like the tides. They should be cemented in place to give companies and consumers desperately needed assurance that the landscape won’t keep changing.
For years, privacy advocates like me have pushed for protections on consumer data collected on and offline. We urged that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) be given additional resources to focus specifically on the misuse of consumer data collected offline and merged with online data.
Unfortunately, the FTC’s wings were clipped when another federal agency, the Federal Communications Commission, expanded its previously narrow privacy authority. While that might sound like something privacy advocates would applaud, it’s a move that’s only muddied the waters and, arguably, reduced protections for consumers’ online privacy.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) self-approved expansion of authority actually displaced the FTC entirely. FTC staff had consistently policed online privacy with an impressive level of authority and competency.
That not only left consumers’ privacy in limbo, it pushed innovators and startups into a chaotic, unpredictable regulatory landscape for all online products and services that make use of consumer data.
The confusion that resulted from this was compounded by the election. Before the FCC could even hire privacy experts or prepare policy pronouncements, a new commission was ready to walk through the door. That’s why it is long past time for Congress to impose some order on the privacy landscape. One easy thing Congress can do is return the FTC to its place as the top privacy cop on the internet beat.
This piece was originally published in The Hill