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33 Attorneys General Send Letter to FTC on Commercial Surveillance Rules

Attorneys general in 33 US states are urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take into consideration consumer risks as it looks into creating rules to crack down on commercial surveillance.

Attorneys general in 33 US states are urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take into consideration consumer risks as it looks into creating rules to crack down on commercial surveillance.

The FTC announced in August that it wants to take action against commercial online surveillance, in which companies collect and analyze user data in an effort to monetize it.

Companies often track every aspect of a user’s online activities, including their browsing history, the purchases they make, their physical location, and their friend and family networks. This and other data is automatically analyzed and then sold to others to help them boost advertising and sales.

The FTC is concerned that the companies collecting this data are not protecting it properly against hackers. In addition, in some cases, the consumer may be forced to share data in order to use a service, or they might simply not be aware that the service they are using is collecting much more data than they are asking for when an account is created.

The agency is also concerned about the impact of surveillance-based services on children, as well as the potential to discriminate against certain categories of consumers.

As a result, the FTC has been exploring rules to crack down on this harmful surveillance and associated lax data security practices.

In response to the FTC’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, a bipartisan group of attorneys general representing 33 states urged the agency to “acknowledge the heightened sensitivity around consumers’ medical data, biometric data, and location data, along with the dangers that arise from data brokers and the surveillance of consumers.”

The AGs have also asked the FTC to mitigate concerns through data minimization, limiting the amount of data collected by firms to only what is required for a specific purpose.

The letter sent to the FTC focuses on biometric, location and medical data, and highlights the “persistent dangers” associated with data brokers, which are often prepared to sell the information they have collected to nearly anyone.

“This scale of aggregation of anonymously gathered information can identify consumers and put consumers at risk of scams, unwanted and persistent advertising, identity theft and lack of consumer trust in the websites they visit,” the AGs warn.

The FTC has been urged to review and draw inspiration from the consumer privacy laws in states such as California, Connecticut, Colorado, Utah and Virginia.

“Limiting the collection and retention of data by businesses will improve consumer data security as businesses will have less data to protect and less data potentially available to bad actors,” the AGs said.

Related: Drizly Agrees to Tighten Data Security After Alleged Breach

Related: FTC Orders Chegg to Improve Security Following Multiple Data Breaches

Related: Australia Mulls Tougher Cybersecurity Laws After Data Breach

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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