The US Federal Trade Commission Is Useless And Incompetent

How useless is the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC)?

There has been a lot going on with Google these days and somebody should be keeping an eye on this company. We need an agency that not only has authority but also isn’t afraid to use its powers. Yet, time and time again, the FTC has shown that it’s reluctant to get involved with anything having to do with Google.

I published several posts on this site about The Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) lawsuit against the FTC. This lawsuit was a last resort for EPIC to force the FTC to do its job properly. The FTC should be embarrassed with itself for getting an outside group to file a lawsuit against them so that something serious can be done about Google’s many violations. Yet, the FTC fought that lawsuit because it didn’t want others telling the federal agency what to do and how to do it.

The FTC has refused to say anything about Google’s new more intrusive privacy policy, which has ignited deep concern all over the world. The only thing said came from the FTC Chairman, Jon Leibowitz, who acknowledged that Google’s new privacy policy is “binary” and “brutal”. He refused to elaborate, though.  It’s now the 8th day of March and the new Google privacy policy has been in effect for a week – still no word from the FTC.

The FTC’s silence is stunning considering the scrutiny and the amount of attention given to Google’s privacy policy. All you have to do is look through all the posts on this site to see just how much attention Google has received. Some of that attention includes:

 About three dozen US State Attorneys General sent Google a strongly worded letter expressing concern for how there isn’t an opt-out option for users; several bipartisan members of the US Congress and Senate condemned Google’s new privacy policy saying that it leaves users with no privacy at all; numerous consumer advocacy groups spoke against Google’s new privacy policy; the European Union said that Google’s new privacy policy violates their data protection laws; several other countries from around the word have expressed their concerns too.

Yet – even after all this is happening, the FTC is still asleep or moving at a glacial pace. WAKE UP! Do your job!

English: Washington, D.C. headquarters of the ...

In an interview on the C-SPAN program, Newsmakers, the FTC Chairman was asked why the federal agency moves so slowly to act against abuses, while European regulators do a great job of protecting the privacy of their citizens. The battles the FTC chooses to fight seem to be always three years too late. The Chairman responded by saying this:

“We’re not a regulatory agency. We’re an enforcement and policy agency, so it’s harder for us to set up rules in advance, so…you’re right…it’s a tricky question…responding to how do we make things better going forward as opposed to correcting mistakes a few years ago…we try our best using the tools that we have”

This is an admission that the FTC is incompetent and useless. When the new consumer Privacy Bill of Rights was unveiled last month by the White House, one of the major announcements was something called “Do Not Track”. This proposal for a new Do Not Track button is meant to keep people safe against online spying or tracking. As many of you already know, just about any website you visit has multiple tracking companies spying on your every move – including Google. There are over 800 of these tracking companies, many of whom are solely in business to keep track of Internet users’ online habits. They use tracking devices to monitor how you browse the web from site to site. Google has several of these tracking tools to keep an eye on users not only on their own websites, but on other people’s websites too. What the Do Not Track button will allow is a way for Internet users to express to these companies that they prefer not to be tracked.

However, this proposed Do Not Track button gives a false sense of security and totally lacks real value. This is because it’s voluntary for companies to respect the Do Not Track preference of Internet users and companies can still monitor your computer habits either way. In addition, the advertising industry (which Google is deeply embedded in) has vehemently opposed a web browser default setting that would prevent tracking. They oppose an anti-tracking tool that would outright prevent tracking of all sorts – no exceptions. They also want it to be completely self-regulatory and under their terms.

The FTC has given up on pushing for comprehensive and stringent laws to protect online user privacy. Instead, the FTC sided with the tracking companies and approved of the self-regulatory approach the tracking companies prefer. The FTC Chairman said:

“This is not a year Congress is going to pass a lot of legislation…but it is a year we should be working on privacy and so the best way to do it is….government using its bully pulpit and pushing very hard for the best self-regulatory standards”

He wants these tracking companies to police themselves. The FTC will only get involved (at least they say they will) if these companies engage in deceptive practices. The FTC will never get involved because evidence has already shown they often do not.

I’m not the only person who thinks the FTC is useless. Scott Cleland, who wrote an article for The Daily Caller, laid out evidence to clearly show how poorly the FTC is doing its job compared to the US Department of Justice, Congress, Attorneys General, and the European Commission. He writes,

“The evidence is mounting that the European Union is stepping in to fill the void of FTC law enforcement concerning Google. Currently, EU law enforcement is confronting Google on at least three different major law enforcement matters, and in the U.S., the DOJ, State Attorneys General, and Congressional overseers have taken a consistent, bipartisan tough law enforcement approach with Google. However, this is in stark contrast to the FTC’s consistently lax law enforcement record with Google”

He then goes on to present the evidence. To read the full article, please click here.

It’s clear that the FTC is failing the American people. They don’t have any regulatory ability, they are repeatedly negligent in enforcement, and they advocate for ineffective policies like the voluntarily Do Not Track browser add-on that will only give people a false sense of security. I conclude that the FTC is completely and utterly useless.

For more information:

SFGate, “What Do Not Track will mean remains unclear” – click here

googleexposed, “US Federal Trade Commission Chairman Gives Candid And Revealing Talk About Google” – click here

googleexposed, “Use anti-tracking tools….” – click here

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