Author Archive

White House Consumer Privacy Bill Starts an Important Conversation

This afternoon the White House released a discussion draft of its Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act. Jules Polonetsky and Chris Wolf issued the following response:

Today’s release of the text of Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights demonstrates the U.S.’s continuing commitment to advance privacy protection for consumers.

Although the current system of FTC enforcement actions and strong sectoral laws provide important tools to address privacy harms, the ideas proposed in the bill are certain to help frame the discussion about privacy practices by companies and not-for profits in the future.  International data regulators should recognize that this bill is not a critique of the current system, but the opening of a nuanced conversation that seeks to balance benefit and risk, while being considerate of consumer rights.

The impact of the bill is not likely to be legislative, but the ideas it raises will have impact on the privacy debate.  Key concepts in the bill that will advance the privacy discussion in a very practical way include the focus on context to shape appropriate uses of data, the recognition that assessing benefit and risk is important, and the consideration of Privacy Review Boards as internal or external structures that could help assess beneficial uses of data that would otherwise be constrained by law.

What Privacy Papers Should Policymakers Be Reading?

Each year, FPF invites privacy scholars and authors interested in privacy questions to submit articles and papers to be considered by members of our Advisory Board, with an aim toward showcasing those articles that should inform any conversation about privacy among policymakers in Congress, as well as at the Federal Trade Commission and in other government agencies. For our fifth annual Privacy Papers for Policymakers, we received a record number of submissions covering topics ranging from data use in elections, government surveillance, the always-present cloud, and even the emergence of app stores for the brain.

However, in a year where the White House launched a review into the privacy implications of “Big Data,” scholars and privacy advocates were particularly focused on looking at how algorithms are changing our society – and what that means for individuals’ privacy. Our Advisory Board selected papers that addressed this challenge head-on. It also selected papers that describe how information about consumers is being collected, gathered, and used across the Internet, and what role the FTC should specifically play in policing the privacy and data security practices around those activities.

Our top privacy papers for 2014 are, in alphabetical order:

Big Data’s Disparate Impact
Solon Barocas & Andrew Selbst

Four Privacy Myths
Neil Richards

Free: Accounting for the Costs of the Internet’s Most Popular Price
Chris Jay Hoofnagle & Jan Whittington

The Scope and Potential of FTC Data Protection 
Woodrow Hartzog & Dan Solove

The Scored Society
Danielle Citron & Frank Pasquale

The Scoring of America: How Secret Consumer Scores Threaten Your Privacy and Your Future 
Pam Dixon and Robert Gellman

These papers illuminate concerns that will continue to drive privacy debates in 2015. Already in the new year, we have seen the White House push new proposals to address student privacy and identity theft. The Internet of Things has made headlines, moving from something that is coming to something that is here.

We want to thank EY for their special support of this project. And we thank the scholars, advocates, and Advisory Board members that are engaged with us to explore the future of privacy. We look forward to celebrating the formal release of FPF’s Privacy Papers for Policymakers digest at an event the evening of March 3rd, ahead of the IAPP Global Privacy Summit. If you are interested in attending, please reach to us at

-Joseph Jerome, Policy Counsel

White House Return to Big Data Focuses on Price Discrimination

Today, the White House released an interim progress report detailing the Administration’s efforts on privacy in big data since its landmark report last spring. The update highlights the President’s recent calls for new privacy legislation, including efforts on student privacy and the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, and also calls for deeper understanding of differential pricing — or what is commonly called price discrimination. The White House Council of Economic Advisors released a companion report, exploring how companies can use the information they collect to more effectively charge different prices to different customers.

The nineteen-page report notes that industry is already using big data for targeted marketing and beginning to experiment with personalized pricing. According to FPF Senior Fellow Peter Swire, the report is “a readable discussion of price discrimination from an economists’ perspective. In a non-ideological way, it explains the terminology used by professional economists.”

Much of the report summaries existing concerns about the use of big data and price discrimination in general. Most economists, the report notes, consider price discrimination in the context of differences among consumers in their willingness to pay for good. While the report focuses on this sort of value-based pricing, it also notes the need for further discussion about the impact of big data on “risk-based” pricing, where sellers charge prices based on differences in the cost of serving different groups.Without much elaboration, the report cautions that “[b]ig data encourages risk-based pricing by enabling more fine-grained measurement of various risks,” citing the ability to track individual driving behaviors as a potential example.

As for the rise of value-based pricing, the report concedes that “current knowledge is mainly anecdotal.” It suggests that companies are either “moving slowly or remaining quiet, perhaps due to fears that consumers will respond negatively, but also because the methods are still being developed.”

It concludes that many concerns about price discrimination could be addressed through existing antidiscrimination, privacy, and consumer protection laws, and it recommends that companies provide more transparency about industry data practices. Swire further explained that two quotations distill the report’s key takeaways:

 (1) “The challenge for policy in this area will be to promote the application of big data where it can discourage excessive risk-taking and help solve adverse selection problems, while preventing unfair discrimination against consumers who have little control over newly-measureable risk factors.”

(2) “However, given the speed at which both the technology and business practices are evolving, commercial applications of big data deserve ongoing scrutiny, particularly where companies may be using sensitive information in ways that are not transparent to users and fall outside the boundaries of existing regulatory frameworks.”

 While further conversation about the potentially negative impacts of big data are warranted, the report takes a bullish approach toward concerns about price discrimination. As our digital footprints grow, the report states that broad trends suggest price discrimination is not yet having a negative impact on online consumer activities, and instead, consumers “are making use of the Internet and the variety of choices and tools it provides to ensure that they get a good deal.”

-Joseph Jerome, Policy Counsel



Student Privacy Pledge Crosses Milestone with 100 Signatories

Media Contacts:

FPF: Nicholas Graham, (571) 291-2967,
SIIA: Sabrina Eyob, (202) 789-4480,
PR Agency: Farrah Kim, (202) 568-8986,



Responsible Privacy Practices Affirmed by  

Growing Number of Ed-Tech Companies


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wednesday, February 4, 2015 – The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) today announced that the groundbreaking Student Privacy Pledge now has 108 signatories. The pledge is a list of 12 commitments that school service providers have made to affirm K-12 student information is kept private and secure.


The Pledge was launched in October 2014 with 14 signatory companies, grew to 75 by early January, and has now reached a milestone – surpassing 100 signatories. The recent increase was fueled in part by President Obama’s strong support of the Pledge, announced on January 12th as part of a suite of policy proposals designed to further student privacy.


Unlike proposed legislative or regulatory actions, which may not go into effect for some period of time, the Pledge is binding and enforceable as soon as each company signs it. Signatory companies are listed online at


“Passing 100 signatories to the Student Privacy Pledge is a clear affirmation of the industry’s commitment to the responsible use of student data,” said Jules Polonetsky, executive director, FPF. “We are grateful to the President for championing the Pledge, and we applaud the companies on the Pledge for their leadership on this issue.”


“The Pledge has strong momentum, with more than 100 high-tech companies signing to articulate their safeguarding of student information,” said Mark Schneiderman, SIIA’s senior director of education policy. “Along with existing laws and school agreements, the Pledge is part of a strong legal framework that ensures teachers and students can feel safe about technology use in school.”


In addition to the Pledge, SIIA and FPF continue other student privacy leadership efforts. On February 17-18 in Washington, D.C., FPF – in partnership with ReThink Education and with participation from SIIA – is organizing and hosting its first-ever Student Privacy Boot Camp for start-ups, small, and medium-sized ed-tech companies. Similarly, SIIA has provided an analysis of existing and new student privacy laws for its member companies. These and related programs help ensure vendors handling student data understand and comply with privacy laws and best practices.


The Student Privacy Pledge outlines a dozen commitments regarding the responsible collection, maintenance, and use of student personal information. The Pledge was developed by FPF and SIIA with guidance from school service providers, educator organizations, and other stakeholders following a convening by U.S. Representatives Jared Polis (CO) and Luke Messer (IN). The Pledge has also been endorsed by the National PTA and the National School Boards Association, among others.

The full text of the Pledge, more information about how to support it, and a list of current signatories are available at

About FPF
The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a Washington, DC based think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices. The forum is led by Internet privacy experts Jules Polonetsky and Christopher Wolf and includes an advisory board comprised of leading figures from industry, academia, law and advocacy groups.  For more information, visit

About SIIA

SIIA is the leading association representing the software and digital content industries. SIIA represents approximately 800 member companies worldwide that develop software and digital information content. SIIA provides global services in government relations, business development, corporate education and intellectual property protection to the leading companies that are setting the pace for the digital age. For more information, visit

Moving the Internet of Things Forward Without Hard Numbers on Risks

Today’s release of the FTC’s long-awaited report on the Internet of Things concludes that connected devices are “likely to meld the virtual and physical worlds together in ways that are currently difficult to comprehend.” It’s this great unknown where it seems many of the revolutionary benefits and more abstract risks from connectivity lie. While the Future of Privacy Forum was largely supportive of the report, the separate statement of Commissioner Ohlhausen and dissent from Commissioner Wright reflect the reality that it is still early days for the Internet of Things and the path forward is not crystal clear.

Both commissioners caution the FTC against focusing on speculative harms and urge a more rigorous cost-benefit analysis. For Commissioner Ohlhausen, this perspective dictates that the Commission approach new technologies with a degree of regulatory humility, while Commissioner Wright is more blunt: “Paying lip service to the obvious fact that the various best practices and proposals discussed in the Workshop Report might have both costs and benefits, without in fact performing such an analysis, does nothing to inform the recommendations made in the Workshop Report.”

There is some merit to this criticism. At the end of the day, I always want hard numbers to back up my policy positions and lamented the fact that I often don’t have them.  The problem is that when it comes to privacy – particularly privacy harms – evaluating costs is difficult. Academics have been struggling for years through efforts both serious and silly to quantify the value of privacy, and the Internet of Things appears to have only added to the perception that there are new, more abstract threats to privacy. Existing risk assessment frameworks are well geared to identify and address tangible harms, such as financial loss or security vulnerabilities, but it is much harder to measure the chilling effects, if any, of smart thermostats and televisions.

It is not sufficient to simply dismiss concerns as too abstract or inchoate. By now, it should be increasingly clear that the public’s sense that individuals have lost control over their information is problematic. It’s unclear whether the FTC alone is in the position to ensure privacy and security concerns about connectivity will not undermine public confidence in the wider Internet of Things. So what can be done?

In some spaces, the Internet of Things seems to finally open the door for companies to compete on privacy in a way that consumers can understand. The Association of Global Automakers, for example, view its recently released automotive privacy principles as a floor for its members and fully expects car companies to be able to compete on privacy, both due to our close relationships with our cars and preeminent security concerns. There are plenty of opportunities for companies to be proactive on privacy. There are already industry efforts underway to establish a baseline for how wearable devices should be treated and algorithms be governed. Recently, FPF has called for companies to engage in a more detailed and concrete analysis of the benefits of their data projects. Part of the aim of this effort is to encourage industry to develop more elaborate and more structured processes such as review panels and “consumer” IRBs that can consider seriously the ethical challenges posed by some innovative uses of data.

Beyond that, the Internet of Things promises new opportunities for users to engage with their information. Connectivity tools that offer users controls will be important not just for privacy but for basic functionality. I was pleased to see the FTC report highlight our calls for consumer profile management portals. Implemented correctly, better user dashboards will give individuals the ability to make their own decisions about what information about them is collected, used, and shared. These tools respect user autonomy and let them make their own decisions about what benefits they want – and risks they’re willing to tolerate. Better, more individualized control obviously doesn’t resolve collective privacy challenges, but it is one option to look at alongside codes of conduct, traditional benefit-risk assessments, and review mechanisms. Until we can find a better way to measure and analyze the societal value of privacy, this multi-pronged approach is the best way forward on the Internet of Things.

-Joseph Jerome, Policy Counsel

Privacy Calendar

all-day Global Privacy Summit 2015
Global Privacy Summit 2015
Mar 4 – Mar 6 all-day
For more information, click here.
6:00 pm CDT Annual Dinner “TechProm” 2015
CDT Annual Dinner “TechProm” 2015
Mar 10 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Featuring the most influential minds of the tech policy world, CDT’s annual dinner, TechProm, highlights the issues your organization will be facing in the future and provides the networking opportunities that can help you tackle[...]
all-day BCLT Privacy Law Forum
BCLT Privacy Law Forum
Mar 13 all-day
This program will feature leading academics and practitioners discussing the latest developments in privacy law. UC Berkeley Law faculty and conference panelists will discuss cutting-edge scholarship and explore ‘real world’ privacy law problems. Click here[...]
all-day PL&B’s Asia-Pacific Roundtable (...
PL&B’s Asia-Pacific Roundtable (...
May 27 all-day
PROFESSOR GRAHAM GREENLEAF, Asia-Pacific Editor, Privacy Laws & Business International Report, will lead a roundtable on the countries of most interest to business in the Asia-Pacific region. Click here for more information.
all-day PL&B’s 28th Annual International...
PL&B’s 28th Annual International...
Jul 6 – Jul 8 all-day
The Privacy Laws & Business 27th Annual International Conference featured more than 40 speakers and chairs from many countries over 3 intensive days. At the world’s longest running independent international privacy event participants gained professionally by[...]
all-day Data Privacy Day
Data Privacy Day
Jan 28 – Jan 29 all-day
“Data Privacy Day began in the United States and Canada in January 2008, as an extension of the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe. The Day commemorates the 1981 signing of Convention 108, the first[...]
all-day Data Privacy Day
Data Privacy Day
Jan 28 – Jan 29 all-day
“Data Privacy Day began in the United States and Canada in January 2008, as an extension of the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe. The Day commemorates the 1981 signing of Convention 108, the first[...]

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