Today, the Federal Trade Commission announced a consent decree in the Staples-Essendant merger. Commissioners Slaughter and Chopra dissented, arguing the consent decree would be insufficient to address their competitive concerns with the merger.
Yesterday, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the “American Data Dissemination (ADD) Act,” which would require the Federal Trade Commission to recommend privacy regulations in line with the 1974 Privacy Act to Congress and also prevent states from passing their own privacy laws. Additionally, the bill would preempt those state protections already in place, effectively walking back the few privacy safeguards consumers have.
Yesterday, reports surfaced that Voipo, a California voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP) provider, exposed millions of consumer call logs and text messages stored on an “improperly secured” ElasticSearch database for several months before security researcher Justin Paine located them.
It seems almost every week there are new revelations about Facebook’s data use and sharing policies. The Federal Trade Commission is currently investigating Facebook for a potential consent decree violation related to the release of user data to Cambridge Analytica. The new allegations of data misuse in the New York Times this week may also be a violation of the consent decree. They are at least worthy of FTC investigation. And the cache of previously sealed litigation documents published by a British Member of Parliament earlier this month seem to indicate that Facebook may have been strategically withholding this valuable data from “strategic competitors” such as upstart Vine. Taken together, the two stories paint a frightening picture. Was Facebook granting access to private user data to cement its market position, offering it up to the powerful and wielding it as a cudgel against potential competitors? At the close of the current investigation, the FTC should demand remedies that protect users’ privacy while encouraging competition on the Facebook platform and against Facebook itself.
One of the first lessons I learned as an advocate at Public Knowledge? “Regulation” and “rulemaking authority” are dirty words in too many parts of Capitol Hill. This is perhaps unsurprising to people who have worked on tech and telecom policy longer than I have. Or, for that matter, to people who work on environmental policy or any number of other issues. Nonetheless, this is my case for why I am pro-agency rulemaking authority, and you should be too.