FTC ponders proper punishment for commercial data 'surveillance'


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Aug 17, 2014
The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced an effort to formulate privacy rules to deter unwelcome online monitoring and shoddy data security.

The trade watchdog invited comments from the public about "commercial surveillance practices" in advance of a planned rule-making push. And the agency's decision to use the word "surveillance" rather than a euphemism like "data gathering" or "personalization" suggests the FTC is already inclined to change the status quo.

"Firms now collect personal data on individuals at a massive scale and in a stunning array of contexts," said FTC Chair Lina Khan in a statement.

"The growing digitization of our economy – coupled with business models that can incentivize endless hoovering up of sensitive user data and a vast expansion of how this data is used – means that potentially unlawful practices may be prevalent."

The FTC said its concern arises from the difficulty of avoiding commercial surveillance. It notes that some companies require customers to agree to data collection as a condition of service and that companies may subsequently change their terms of service to further expand data gathering. The agency also pointed to the increasing use of deceptive marketing or "dark patterns" to manipulate consumers.

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