FTC Weighs New Online Privacy Rules

John D. McKinnon and Ryan Tracy

This article by John D. McKinnon and Ryan Tracy appeared in The Wall Street Journal on September 29.

The Federal Trade Commission is considering strengthening online privacy protections, including for children, in an effort to bypass legislative logjams in Congress.

The rules under consideration could impose significant new obligations on businesses across the economy related to how they handle consumer data, people familiar with the matter said. The early talks are the latest indication of the five-member commission’s more aggressive posture under its new chairwoman, Lina Khan, a Democrat who has been a vocal critic of big business, particularly large technology companies.

Congressional efforts to assist the FTC in tackling perceived online privacy problems was the focus of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday. If the agency chooses to move forward with an initiative, any broad new rule would likely take years to implement.

In writing new privacy rules, the FTC could follow several paths, the people said: It could look to declare certain business practices unfair or deceptive, using its authority to police such conduct. It could also tap a less-used legal authority that empowers the agency to go after what it considers unfair methods of competition, perhaps by viewing certain businesses’ data-collection practices as exclusionary.

The agency could also address privacy protections for children by updating its rules under the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. And it could use its enforcement powers to target individual companies, as some privacy advocates urge.

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