The Federal Trade Commission has appointed Edward Felten, a leading authority on Internet privacy, as its first-ever chief technologist. He will assume the role in January.
Felten is founding director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, where he was serving as a professor of computer science and public affairs until the hire. (He said in a blog post that he would be taking a leave of absence for his new position.) Felten was already a part-time consultant for the FTC, as well as the U.S. departments of Justice and Defense.
In 2008, Felton led a team of researchers who discovered a way to steal encrypted data from computer hard disks by freezing their memory chips.
Felton's arrival to the FTC is significant as a number of proposals to reign in online advertising work their way through Congress. He "will provide invaluable input into the recommendations we’ll be making soon for online privacy, as well as the enforcement actions we’ll soon bring to protect consumer privacy," the FTC said in a written statement.
Immediate industry reaction to the appointment was positive. Anil Dash, director of Expert Labs, wrote on Twitter that Felton was "the best possible candidate for the job."
The FTC has also appointed Eileen Harrington, COO of the U.S. Small Business Administration, as the agency's executive director. Harrington is a 25-year veteran of the FTC, formerly serving as associate director for marketing practices, deputy director, and acting director.
Harrington was a proponent of tighter regulations for online advertisers when she was deputy director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection for the FTC in 2008. After the FTC issued its self-regulatory guidelines for advertisers, Harrington predicted that the longer the industry took to adopt those rules, "the more likely policies are going to develop."
Harrington was instrumental in the development of the federal Do-Not-Call program, and has compared that effort to the need to reign in online advertisers. "If [the industry doesn't] exercise some restraint," she told ClickZ in 2008, it is "potentially on a similar trajectory."
Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
June 20, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT