New FTC Commissioner Solidifies Web Privacy Focus

A new addition at the Federal Trade Commission could solidify the agency’s online ad privacy focus. Julie Brill, most recently chief of consumer protection for the State of North Carolina, was confirmed yesterday as a commissioner with the FTC.

Brill has made privacy protection a key focus throughout her career. Before serving as consumer protection chief and senior deputy attorney general for North Carolina, she worked for 17 years as an assistant attorney general in Vermont, in which time she testified before congress at hearings related to consumer protection and financial data privacy. She is also co-chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Working Group on Privacy.

“I am especially encouraged by her expertise on antitrust and privacy issues,” suggested Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont in a statement regarding Brill. “Though these issues directly affect every American, they have not had the FTC’s full attention for far too long.”

“I believe [Brill’s] primary privacy agenda based on her confirmation hearing testimony and other prior testimony will be on online fraud prevention and protecting sensitive consumer data such as credit reporting, financial data, and health information,” suggested Amy Mudge, an antitrust and consumer protection counsel at Arnold and Porter, LLP. “With her over 20 year background in state enforcement, I would expect to see heightened FTC and state AG coordination, as well.”

The FTC has already swung in a pro-online privacy direction since the Obama administration settled in. Chairman Jon Leibowitz, though reluctant to support online ad and privacy regulations outright, has indicated that industry self-regulation may not be enough to protect consumer privacy.

Edith Ramirez, a Los Angeles-based attorney with a copyright and trademark focus, was also confirmed as an FTC commissioner. Brill and Ramirez replace spots left empty by former commissioners Deborah Majoras and Pamela Jones Harbour.

Privacy watchdogs have held out hope that the FTC would take more action against behavioral ad companies and others they believe to be in violation of consumer protection and privacy rules. Yet, not since February 2009 when it released revised principles for behavioral advertising was anything concrete done to affect online advertisers by the FTC.

According to an FTC spokesperson, it is unclear when the two new commissioners will be sworn in and begin working with the agency.

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