Analysis | FTC Chair Lina Khan calls for a paradigm shift on data privacy – The Washington Post

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Below: Europe has new antitrust charges lined up for Apple, and Google makes its non-disclosure protections more explicit. First:

FTC Chair Lina Khan calls for a paradigm shift on data privacy

In her first major privacy address since taking the helm of the Federal Trade Commission last year, Chair Lina Khan called for the federal government to expand its policing of data abuses to account for the vast “surveillance” enabled by modern technology. 

“The central role that digital tools will only continue to play invites us to consider whether we want to live in a society where firms can condition access to critical technologies and opportunities on users having to surrender to commercial surveillance,” Khan said during a keynote address at the Global Privacy Summit on Monday in Washington.

Khan’s remarks offer hints of how aggressively the agency may pursue privacy cases against tech companies after Democrats retake the majority at the agency.

The FTC has operated without a majority or full complement of commissioners for almost the entirety of President Biden’s term, creating a partisan deadlock that has hamstrung the agency’s ability to pursue more sweeping oversight of the tech sector. But that’s soon poised to change, with Alvaro Bedoya’s nomination recently clearing a Senate procedural hurdle.

Here are a few takeaways from Khan’s marquee address: 

Khan sharply rebuked the tech industry’s data practices

Khan unleashed broadsides against the data collection practices that have become common in Silicon Valley.

“The general lack of legal limits on what types of information can be monetized has yielded a booming economy built around the buying and selling of this data,” she said, decrying what she called a business model that “seems to incentivize endless tracking and vacuuming up of users’ data.”

The comments by Khan, who rose to prominence as a leading critic of the tech giant’s alleged competitive abuses, marked some of her most expansive remarks on data privacy to date.

Khan said ‘notice and consent’ isn’t nearly enough

Khan issued a scathing indictment of the “notice and consent” model – the notion that companies’ primary responsibility is to notify users of their data collection practices and to attain their consent. “I’m concerned that the present market realities may render the notice and consent paradigm outdated and insufficient,” she said.

Instead, Khan suggested, regulators should consider whether more data collection practices should be restricted or prohibited altogether. Only taking notice and consent into account, she said, ends up “sidestepping more fundamental questions about whether certain types of data collection and processing should be permitted in the first place.” 

Khan also noted that Congress “could also help usher in this type of new paradigm” by passing federal privacy legislation. Given that those efforts have been stagnant for years, the FTC’s enforcement of privacy will be particularly crucial. 

FTC zeroing in on ‘dominant firms’

Without name-checking any particular industry giants, Khan said the agency’s plan is to “harness our scarce resources to maximize impact,” including by focusing on “dominant firms” and others “whose business practices cause widespread harm.” That means that under Khan, the FTC likely remains on a collision course with Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies. 

But the remarks also notably alluded to one of the agency’s biggest hurdles: a lack of money. Agency leaders including Khan have long complained that the FTC’s funding levels have hampered its ability to adequately enforce against an array of abuses, including on privacy.

Congressional Democrats last year were angling to give the FTC a historic funding boost for privacy enforcement by creating a new bureau at the agency, but the plans have been bogged down amid disagreements over broader social spending plans.

Regulators are looking for more tech chops

Kahn said the FTC is still looking to grow the tech expertise within its own ranks. 

“We have already increased the number of technologists on our staff drawn from a diverse set of skill sets, including data scientists and engineers, user-design experts, and AI researchers, and we plan to continue building up this team,” she said.

Federal agencies have long struggled to attract and retain top technical expertise away from the tech industry, which can often lure away top talent with its deep pool of resources.

Our top tabs

European regulators plan to tack another antitrust charge on Apple

The new charge comes as part of an investigation triggered by a complaint from Spotify, Reuters’s Foo Yun Chee reports. It comes about a year after European regulators took aim at Apple’s music streaming business and accused the company of breaking E.U. competition laws. Apple denied the claim at the time.

“In addition to the music streaming investigation, Apple’s practices in e-books and its Apple Pay are also in the E.U. antitrust crosshairs,” Reuters writes. The European Commission declined to comment and Apple “had no immediate comment,” Reuters writes.

Facebook’s Ukrainian fact-checkers race to debunk propaganda, survive

Independent fact-checkers in Ukraine have long worked with Facebook to determine whether posts are false, prompting the social media network to decrease their visibility and add warning labels and explanations. But two groups that examine content in Ukraine have lost workers to the front lines, while other fact-checkers spend some time planning their escapes or taking cover amid violent moments, Naomi Nix reports

Facebook parent Meta has “been providing significant resources to fact-checkers covering Eastern Europe to increase their capacity to help slow the spread of misinformation about the war in Ukraine and help ensure their safety,” Meta spokesperson Ayobami Olugbemiga said.

Employees can speak out about harassment and discrimination, Google says

Google said in a filing ahead of its annual general meeting that none of its employee agreements prohibit workers from speaking out about harassment and discrimination they faced at the company, Gerrit De Vynck reports for The Technology 202. Google previously said people were free to speak about harassment settlements they had with the tech giant, but the latest statement is the broadest and most clear the company has made to date. 

The statement came as part of Google’s response to a shareholder proposal asking the company to be more clear about how it uses nondisclosure agreements in its employee contracts. The wording in Google’s filing aligns with the Silenced No More Act, a bill that was passed in California last year and prohibits companies from using NDAs to stop workers from speaking out about harassment and discrimination. Tech employees including former Pinterest worker and whistleblower Ifeomo Ozoma have for years tried to get tech companies to stop using NDAs to silence current and former employees.

Rant and rave

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk’s departure from Twitter’s board was the talk of the social media network, from Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal’s statement about it to the implications for the company.

Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier:

Big Technology’s Alex Kantrowitz:

Our colleague Will Oremus:

Inside the industry

US says internet services are exempt from Russian sanctions (The Verge)

Amazon’s $2B housing push is mostly leaving out D.C. area’s poorest (Teo Armus)

Keeping Mark Zuckerberg safe cost Meta nearly $27 million last year (Bloomberg)

The Internet’s meth underground, hidden in plain sight (NBC News)

Workforce report

Google’s first week back in the office included marching bands, mayoral visits and traffic jams (CNBC)

Etsy Sellers Strike as Site Ramps Up to Battle Amazon (Wall Street Journal)

California university sues YouTubers who allegedly filmed disruptive pranks (The Guardian)

  • Apple chief executive Tim Cook and European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders speak at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit at 9:15 a.m. today.
  • TikTok global chief security officer Roland Cloutier speaks at an event hosted by Northwestern University’s Buffett Institute for Global Affairs today at 5 p.m.
  • Microsoft president Brad Smith speaks at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

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