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FTC Promises Landmark Hearings on Emerging Tech, Privacy Issues

The Federal Trade Commission has its sights set on a number of big-ticket issues revolving around new technologies, consumer privacy protection and business practices.

by Alexander Soule, The Hour / June 21, 2018

(TNS) — Under its newly sworn-in chairman, the Federal Trade Commission is planning what it promises will be a landmark series of hearings to analyze whether emerging technologies and evolving business practices require an overhaul of how it regulates consumer protection and competition in the economy.

The FTC is soliciting input from the public through Aug. 20 on a range of issues listed online at, including individuals’ right to privacy in a “big data” age in which businesses trade in personal information, to its enforcement powers in chasing down bad actors.

“A fundamental characteristic of a strong institution is a willingness to engage with new ideas and, in our case, changes in markets and business-to-business and business-to-consumer relationships,” new FTC Chairman Joseph Simons said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Important and significant questions recently have been raised about whether we should rethink our approach to some of these issues.”

The FTC anticipates between 15 and 20 hearings between September and January addressing its authority to deter deceptive conduct related to privacy and data security, and its overall powers to enforce regulations and sanction wrongdoers. Other topics will include:

The competitive effects of corporate mergers.

“Monopsony” power in which a single buyer can drive down prices.

Dovetailing state and federal regulations governing deceptive practices.

Implications for consumers of artificial intelligence.

Intellectual property’s role in promoting innovation.

“I welcome this opportunity to evaluate whether our antitrust and consumer protection laws are adequately able to address today’s changing economy,” stated Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in an email forwarded by a spokeswoman in response to a Hearst Connecticut Media query. “I will submit thorough comments in advance of these hearings and hope that this formal self-reflection will lead to stronger and more robust enforcement of our laws, as well as new laws where warranted.”

In 2017, the FTC obtained judicial orders for malefactors to repay nearly $5.3 billion as a result of their actions, the large majority of it the result of a federal investigation of Volkswagen for evading emissions requirements for diesel vehicles that will ultimately total $11.5 billion under a judge’s order last year.

Last year, more than 3.1 million individual consumers received $269 million in direct redress as a result of FTC intervention, with the commission levying additional penalties of $176 million last year.

The announcement comes less than two months after Simons became chairman of the FTC in place of Maureen Ohlhausen, who held the role on an acting basis since the February 2017 departure of Obama appointee Edith Ramirez.

Simons has worked in senior antitrust roles at both the FTC and the Department of Justice, and most recently was a partner with Paul Weiss, a corporate law firm with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Del.

The state Department of Consumer Protection may submit its own commentary to the FTC as part of the upcoming hearings, according to Michelle Seagull, who was appointed commissioner in May 2017 by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and who was a private-sector attorney previously with a focus on unfair competition.

“Consumers are now doing business with organizations that do not have physical locations within the state,” Seagull said. “So much business is done online.”

©2018 The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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