Tech@FTC

Hello world!

I’d like to introduce myself as the new Chief Technologist of the FTC, following in the footsteps of my predecessors, Latanya Sweeney, Steve Bellovin, and Ed Felten. As the Commission enters its 100th year, technological expertise will be more important than ever, and I’m excited to lead this charge.

In this regard, my agenda will include the following:

Online ads roll the dice

Online ads, exclusive online communities, and the potential for adverse impacts from big data analytics

Online advertising today is a big data analytic marvel, deciding in the time it takes to load a web page which ad, among billions, to deliver to which of billions of domains. Large and fast for sure, but what are the ramifications of some of the decisions ad networks are making?

Technology science

Does enjoying a camcorder, a new computer, or a football game mean you have to risk personal harms like loss of privacy? Sometimes we enjoy advances in technology with protections like privacy. How can we do so more often?

Before I go any further, let me advise you that I am solely responsible for this blog’s content, characterizations, ideas and choice of topic. This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or any of its Commissioners. The goal of this blog post is to spark discussion and debate.

Save the world

The Federal Trade Commission is launching a new program, Summer Research Fellowships in Technology and Data Governance. Spend your summer exploring ways to design, create, assess, and analyze technology at its intersection with business, society and policy. This 10-week program gives students hands on experience with work relevant to the FTC by assisting the FTC's Chief Technologist and others with real-work exploratory projects of interest to the FTC.

Transparency establishes trust

We are amidst an era of open data –a period in which we share details of our personal lives widely in exchange for all kinds of services, often trusting companies with our most intimate facts. Sharing information about our personal lives has fostered technological innovations and influenced more transparency in government (e.g., [1,2]) and in science (e.g., [3,4]). However, once personal data are acquired, it may be shared with others without consumer awareness. So how might we add transparency to data sharing? The goal of this blog is to spark discussion and debate.

Mobile design 2.0

Children can perform amazing feats using iPhones and iPads, but an Apple business practice may unfairly bill parents. In January, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with Apple Inc, in which the company agreed to provide full refunds to consumers, paying a minimum of $32.5 million, to settle a FTC complaint that the company billed consumers for millions of dollars of charges incurred by children in mobile apps without consent [1]. The Complaint [2] and statements from FTC Commissioners [3,4,5] alone provide FTC's position on the case.

My phone at your service

Anyone can setup wireless sensors to record the appearance of your mobile phone’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth probes to track where you are and where you have been –say, where you are when you're ambling through store or mall, or when you're walking or driving down a street. Some retail stores are experimenting with this technology to track your whereabouts, so FTC held a public hearing on the topic on February 19, 2014. Consumers and retailers already engage in loyalty programs. Should mobile phone tracking be part of loyalty programs?

Hello world!

Hello World!  I am the new Chief Technologist at the Federal Trade Commission, continuing the blog steps of my predecessors.  I am grateful for the service of Ed Felten and Steve Bellovin. With the office developments they have left behind, I am able to blaze a new trail forward.

Does Hashing Make Data “Anonymous”?

One of the most misunderstood topics in privacy is what it means to provide “anonymous” access to data.  One often hears references to “hashing” as a way of rendering data anonymous.   As it turns out, hashing is vastly overrated as an “anonymization” technique.   In this post, I’ll talk about what hashing is, and why it often fails to provide effective anonymity.

Transparency as a user experience problem

One of the top-level recommendations of the FTC privacy report was greater transparency about the data practices of companies and technologies.   The report pointed to mobile apps as especially needing better transparency.   Indeed, a previous FTC staff report on mobile apps for kids found that hardly any of the apps that were studied offered full privacy disclosures.

Hello, world.

Welcome! I’m Ed Felten, Chief Technologist at the FTC. Let me introduce you to this blog.

As the nation’s consumer protection agency, the FTC works on technology issues every day. You’ll see lots of discussion of technology in our reports, cases, speeches and testimonies, not to mention the consumer and business education pieces we publish. But we haven’t had a venue for speaking, more directly and less formally, to the technically minded public about tech issues. That’s what this blog is for.