Special Report: Entering the Ramirez Era


On Monday, FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez takes over as FTC Chairwoman.  Ramirez, a law school classmate of the President and former partner at the Los Angeles  office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, is the FTC’s first Latina chair.  She previously has expressed strong interest in privacy stressing that she intended

to be especially involved in technology issues as they relate to the cross-border dimensions of privacy and data security. 

She takes over from Jon Liebowitz who moved the FTC aggressively on privacy from the beginning to the end of his tenure.  He began as chairman by launching a series of privacy roundtables to regain the initiative on privacy that culminated in a 2010  “Do Not Track” proposal and ended his tenure with a report on mobile privacy that calls for a “Do Not Track” (“DNT”) mechanism for mobile surfers and updates to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”).

DNT was a defining element of Liebowitz’s tenure as he cajoled industry into implementing DNT icons, while web browsers began implementing DNT features.  The proposal had some mild support on Capitol Hill and Senator Rockefeller has reintroduced DNT legislation in the Senate.

Liebowitz steps down just as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) work group on the DNT issue has reached an impasse on whether DNT means just that or instead that it only means targeted ads will not be served towards DNT users.   Frustration over the impasse has led Mozilla to join Safari and Internet Explorer in blocking third-party cookies as a default setting for Firefox, even though it once criticized Microsoft to making a similar move.

[SIDE NOTE:  IAB Vice President Mike Zaneis called the move ” a nuclear first strike against [the] ad industry,” while Google, Facebook and others are ignoring default DNT settings as not being an expression of consumer choice.]

mobile PrivacyWhile DNT may be what defined the FTC under Liebowitz, mobile privacy is likely to be a defining issue for the new Chairwoman.  Before leaving, Liebowitz announced a consent decree with social networking app maker Path that called for $800,o0o in payments for COPPA violations and the release of an FTC staff report on mobile privacy calling for “just-in-time disclosures to consumers” and the offering of a DNT mechanism for smart phone users.  While the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection Assistant Director Chris Olsen said that the report was not meant to set a legal framework for mobile privacy, he did stress that the FTC will “be active on the enforcement front.”

Also, Liebowitz’s farewell coincided with the release the FTC’s 2012 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book revealing that identify theft was the leading consumer complaint by far, accounting for 18 percent of all complaints during the year.  As a result, this is likely to be priority under Chairwoman Ramirez.

One of those enforcement targets could be Google, as there are allegations the internet giant may have improperly shared user information with its app makers.

More Info: Expected FTC Chair Ramirez Could Push for Global Privacy Rules, Ad Age; Google And Facebook Ignore “Do Not Track” Requests, Claim They Confuse Consumers, Forbes; Rockefeller Introduces Do-Not-Track Bill to Protect Consumers OnlineFTC Pushes Do-Not-Track For Mobile, Online Media Daily; FTC’s 2012 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book