Policy

Khan wants the FTC to tackle privacy, with or without Congress

The agency’s chair is getting ready to zero in on behavioral advertising.

FTC Chair Lina Khan.

Lina Khan has long been preparing to write regulations that would ban the collection of certain kinds of data.

Photo: Pool/Getty Images

Congress is getting closer to some kind of agreement on how it wants to regulate data usage, but FTC Chair Lina Khan told Protocol that companies will still have to contend with her agency’s powers as well.

Khan welcomed an agreement struck last week by three of the four congressional negotiators on a privacy bill, calling it “incredibly exciting to see Congress take this important step.” The FTC chair made clear, however, that she feels the agency shouldn’t pause its agenda just because of the congressional push.

“While this effort is pending, we're also of course fiercely committed to using all of our existing tools, enforcement and policy — doing anything we can to make sure Americans are fully protected,” Khan said.

Khan, who is coming up on the end of her first year in office, has long been preparing to write regulations that would ban the collection of certain kinds of data, as well as tackle algorithmic discrimination. She’s also complained repeatedly about behavioral advertising.

“We need to be very clear-eyed about the fact that the behavioral ad-based business model creates a certain set of incentives that are not always aligned with people's privacy protections,” she said.

To Khan, this work — which would likely rely on the commission’s existing power to regulate specific "unfair or deceptive acts” — should proceed even while Congress weighs its own approach to data protection. In their recent draft, lawmakers propose dramatically expanding the FTC’s role in digital privacy. The bill would give the agency power over what kinds of sensitive data need the most protection, a say in how companies can minimize the information they collect and oversight of data relating to kids and teens. The FTC’s role in the bill, however, is part of the reason the measure would give consumers only limited rights to sue companies, and at least one key senator, Democrat Maria Cantwell, is still withholding her support for the draft over the issue.

Available legislative days are also rapidly dwindling on Capitol Hill, making it more likely the U.S. will continue without a national privacy law for years to come.

Still, many Democrats in particular would like to see the FTC act on data. A number of Democratic senators recently wrote to Khan, for instance, asking the FTC to help ensure protections for the data of people seeking information about abortion. The letter cited the likelihood that the Supreme Court will soon overturn a federal right to abortion and the fact that many consumers rely on health and location-based apps that could give law enforcement and anti-abortion activists personal information about people seeking to terminate pregnancies.

“We take very seriously the fact that there are now all sorts of technologies that Americans rely on to navigate everyday life that have either business models that are endlessly surveilling them or that are collecting that data and then selling it on secondary markets,” Khan said. “Inasmuch as existing laws and our existing tools cover some of those practices, we're going to be taking action.”

Despite the coming anniversary of her tenure, Khan’s agenda is only just now really getting started. Alvaro Bedoya joined the FTC as its third Democratic commissioner less than a month ago, and his votes are likely needed to kick off any privacy rulemaking, both because of his career focus on the issue and because the possibility of expansive rulemaking has alarmed big business groups and the FTC’s two Republican commissioners.

Enterprise

Why foundation models in AI need to be released responsibly

Foundation models like GPT-3 and DALL-E are changing AI forever. We urgently need to develop community norms that guarantee research access and help guide the future of AI responsibly.

Releasing new foundation models doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.

Illustration: sorbetto/DigitalVision Vectors

Percy Liang is director of the Center for Research on Foundation Models, a faculty affiliate at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI and an associate professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.

Humans are not very good at forecasting the future, especially when it comes to technology.

Keep Reading Show less
Percy Liang
Percy Liang is Director of the Center for Research on Foundation Models, a Faculty Affiliate at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI, and an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Climate

The West’s drought could bring about a data center reckoning

When it comes to water use, data centers are the tech industry’s secret water hogs — and they could soon come under increased scrutiny.

Lake Mead, North America's largest artificial reservoir, has dropped to about 1,052 feet above sea level, the lowest it's been since being filled in 1937.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The West is parched, and getting more so by the day. Lake Mead — the country’s largest reservoir — is nearing “dead pool” levels, meaning it may soon be too low to flow downstream. The entirety of the Four Corners plus California is mired in megadrought.

Amid this desiccation, hundreds of the country’s data centers use vast amounts of water to hum along. Dozens cluster around major metro centers, including those with mandatory or voluntary water restrictions in place to curtail residential and agricultural use.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Workplace

Indeed is hiring 4,000 workers despite industry layoffs

Indeed’s new CPO, Priscilla Koranteng, spoke to Protocol about her first 100 days in the role and the changing nature of HR.

"[Y]ou are serving the people. And everything that's happening around us in the world is … impacting their professional lives."

Image: Protocol

Priscilla Koranteng's plans are ambitious. Koranteng, who was appointed chief people officer of Indeed in June, has already enhanced the company’s abortion travel policies and reinforced its goal to hire 4,000 people in 2022.

She’s joined the HR tech company in a time when many other tech companies are enacting layoffs and cutbacks, but said she sees this precarious time as an opportunity for growth companies to really get ahead. Koranteng, who comes from an HR and diversity VP role at Kellogg, is working on embedding her hybrid set of expertise in her new role at Indeed.

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

Climate

New Jersey could become an ocean energy hub

A first-in-the-nation bill would support wave and tidal energy as a way to meet the Garden State's climate goals.

Technological challenges mean wave and tidal power remain generally more expensive than their other renewable counterparts. But government support could help spur more innovation that brings down cost.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash

Move over, solar and wind. There’s a new kid on the renewable energy block: waves and tides.

Harnessing the ocean’s power is still in its early stages, but the industry is poised for a big legislative boost, with the potential for real investment down the line.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Latest Stories
Bulletins