Apple CEO Calls for Greater FTC Oversight of Data Brokers

Apple

Apple CEO Tim Cook yesterday called for the Federal Trade Commission to take a larger role in protecting online consumer data by creating and overseeing a data-broker clearinghouse under which all brokers would have to register so that consumers could track how their data has been sold or deleted.

Cook floated the proposal in an op-ed piece for Time magazine in which he also reiterated his call for “Congress to pass comprehensive Federal privacy legislation—a landmark package of reforms that protect and empower the consumer.”

The Apple CEO has been critical of data-sharing practices of other tech and telecom companies which have led the leaders of companies like Facebook and Google to sticky appearances on Capitol Hill in recent months.  Back in March 2018, Cook said in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Recode’s Kara Swisher that Apple was always a champion of protecting consumer data.

“Privacy to us is a human right. It’s a civil liberty,” he said.  And who could also forget the several stories-tall billboard that Apple put up in Las Vegas this year for the Consumer Electronics Show (which Apple did not attend) that read: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”

The call for the regulation of data-brokers may find sympathetic ears in Congress.

Earlier this month, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Mark Warner, D-Va., along with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel voiced strong opposition to the reported sale of user location data by telecom service providers including Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T.  In particular, Sen. Wyden hammered T-Mobile CEO John Legere for what he said was going back on a previous promise to stop selling such data to third parties.

Cook’s call for the creation of an FTC clearinghouse to provide disclosure of data broker activities came on the same day that a coalition of 16 consumer, racial justice, and tech groups unveiled a new privacy framework that calls for a separate Federal agency to handle privacy concerns. They say that the agency should have the rule-making authority separate from the FTC, which they say is not enforcing existing rules.

“The U.S. needs a Federal agency focused on privacy protection, compliance with data protection obligations, and emerging privacy challenges,” the coalition wrote.

Among the groups in the proposal are the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse–what could be considered among the more progressive side of the data privacy debate.

The more centrist slice of the debate–voiced by numerous industry groups since last fall–has as its centerpieces calls for a Federal data privacy law that will preempt all state laws, and appointment of the FTC as a monitor.

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