Federal Trade Commission Spring Seminars on Emerging Consumer Privacy Issues

This spring, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting a series of seminars examining the privacy implications of three new areas of technology that offer potential benefits as well as possible privacy concerns for consumers. Tools geared toward these three areas, mobile device tracking, alternative scoring products and consumer-generated and controlled health data, have become increasingly popular with businesses and as products for technology companies to invent and sell. Businesses see opportunities to increase efficiency and effectiveness in meeting consumers demands with the aid of these tools allowing them to track and analyze potential customers.Consumers, however, are becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of transparency that surrounds these efforts to collect and analyze personal data. The series is intended to bring together stakeholders on both sides to discuss the implications of each new area. Academic, business and industry representatives, and consumer advocates will participate in these two-hour discussion sessions, which will be held in Washington, D.C. and are open to the public. The FTC is inviting public comments and will issue staff reports after the sessions.

Mobile Device Tracking (February 19th)
The seminar on mobile device tracking was held Wednesday, February 19th at the FTC Conference Center in Washington D.C. Speakers discussed the tracking of consumers’ movements throughout and around retail stores and other attractions by retailers and other businesses. There are several technologies for this process and while they may differ, generally the tracking is invisible to consumers and occurs with no interaction. The seminar looked to answer some of the questions associated with these technologies and address consumer and business concerns in this area.

An archived webcast, list of speakers and rough transcript are available here.

Alternative Scoring Products (March 19th)

In efforts to minimize risk or maximize return on investment, many data brokers combine consumer data with specific algorithms or mining techniques to produce predictive scores based on trends and behaviors of customers. These predictive scores can be used for a wide range of purposes, from identity verification and fraud prevention to marketing and advertising. Consumers have little to no access to the underlying data that comprises these scores and are largely unaware of this behind the scenes process. The March 19, 2014 seminar on alternative scoring products will discuss the various questions and concerns that surround the production of these predictive scores.

Consumer Generated and Controlled Health Data (May 7th)

The abundance of information available online and the new computing capabilities and portability of smart devices has allowed consumers to become more active in managing and generating their own health data. The information consumers collect from connecting health and fitness devices can be transmitted to other entities. While the abundance of personal health information may be beneficial for consumers, this data is outside the traditional medical provider context where much of the privacy legislation, like HIPAA, is geared. The May 7, 2014 seminar on consumer generated and controlled health data will raise these examine these potential privacy concerns as well as the benefits provided.

For more information on any of the seminars or to leave public comments visit the Spring Privacy Series webpage.