The US Government’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that its Bureau of Consumer Protection is to replace the existing Mobile Technology Unit with a new Office of Technology Research and Investigation (OTRI).
In a blog posted yesterday Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection reports that the FTC is creating the new office to bring the FTC’s protections into line with the evolving needs of consumers using connected cars, homes and a myriad of new devices enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT). As Jeremy Cowan reports, this will extend far beyond the connected devices to include areas such as data security, privacy, and connected payments.
In her blog Jessica Rich says, “The FTC keeps its finger on the pulse of markets, channeling its resources to protect consumers from deceptive and unfair practices involving new technologies. A few years ago, we created the Mobile Technology Unit to help bring consumer protection into the mobile era. Staffers assist the Bureau of Consumer Protection and FTC regions with law enforcement investigations and lend their expertise to the development of consumer protection policy. The Kids App Privacy Reports, the Mobile Shopping Report, and the Healthcare App Snapshot presented at the Consumer Generated and Controlled Health Data workshop are just a few examples.”
“Today,” says Rich, “I am pleased to announce the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s newest initiative to help ensure that consumers enjoy the benefits of technological progress without being placed at risk of deceptive and unfair practices – the formation of BCP’s Office of Technology Research and Investigation.”
New consumer technologies are coming online daily – and BCP’s OTRI will make sure that the FTC is protecting consumers in emerging marketplaces.
Genuine change of role
In case any cynics out there assume that this is just a change of nameplates on the door, the BCP has begun the process of recruiting new staff with the necessary skills to develop the OTRI. As Jessica Rich adds, “The OTRI will continue the great work performed by the Mobile Technology Unit, but will take on an even broader mandate and be staffed with additional technologists. Our Chief Technologist has a blog post on our recruitment efforts.”
As the Washington Post points out, the new office will not confine itself to the role of connected devices. As the FTC’s chief technologist, Ashkan Soltani, says in his blog, Booting up a new research office at the FTC, we will be “tackling an even broader array of investigative research on technology issues involving all facets of the FTC’s consumer protection mission, including privacy, data security, connected cars, smart homes, algorithmic transparency, emerging payment methods, big data, and the Internet of Things. We believe OTRI will be an instrumental source for research and information on technology’s impact on consumers.”
Mixed feelings about the OTRI’s brief
Commenting on the news Rich Karpinski, 451 Research principal analyst, says, “Excuse us if we have mixed feelings about this. The FTC plays a necessary role in protecting consumer interests, no doubt. But in expanding its role to include a broader array of technology issues – including, it says: ‘privacy, data security, connected cars, smart homes, algorithmic transparency, emerging payment methods, big data, and the Internet of Things’ – one can wonder if it has bit off more than it can meaningfully chew. But it has little choice but to try. The challenge will be not to act with too heavy a hand, whether it be weighing the impact of industry mergers or deciding when and how to redress wrongdoings.”