FTC Needs Authority to Rein in Data Brokers, Intel Exec Hoffman Says

David Hoffman, Intel’s associate general counsel and global privacy officer, said in a blog post on April 22 that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) needs to be given more authority to rein in the activities of data brokers.

“The data broker industry has long been the bottom-feeding portion of the growing data economy,” he wrote. “They purport to be innovators but are in fact nothing more than malicious profiteers. Recent high-profile misuses of personal data have shown how dangerous this largely unregulated category of companies has become. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), despite its best intentions, has neither the proper legal tools nor the resources it needs to do anything about this segment of the industry. That needs to change.”

Hoffman said that while the FTC is to be “commended for the attention it has given to this issue in their recent hearings,” the commission does not have the “resources, legal authorities or focus to properly protect the American people from unscrupulous data brokers.” He called for Congress to give the FTC “what it needs to act as an adequately empowered privacy policy regulator.”

In the blog post, Hoffman said that the “scope and reach of its authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act does not reach many of today’s data-driven business practices,” nor does the Commission’s enforcement program have the “teeth necessary to incentivize responsible and ethical data practices or deter bad actors from exploiting the complex and opaque ways data brokers process personal data.”

Hoffman referenced comments Intel offered following Hoffman’s participation in the Commission’s recent hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century that detail the “specific remedies needed to more fully empower the FTC to address these issues.”

“In the past year, the American people have come to understand that foreign adversaries are working with data brokers to weaponize personal data and use it to manipulate citizens to destabilize our country,” he concluded. “While the FTC does not have the mission to protect the nation from foreign nation-states, it does need to stop these data brokers from collecting, using and transferring personal data in ways that harm individuals and the country. With sufficient authorities and resources, the FTC could quickly begin an effort to shut down the profiting off the malicious use of profiles data brokers create from personal data.”

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