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Commercial surveillance refers to the pervasive collection, tracking, and monetization of personal data. It’s an enterprise that has proven astonishingly lucrative for platforms and other businesses, but often thrives in the shadows without the knowledge of the consumers whose personal information is their stock-in-trade. The FTC has announced an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – and a September 8, 2022, virtual public forum – to take a closer look into harmful commercial surveillance practices and lax data security. We want your input into the prevalence of those practices and ways to address potential harms to consumers.

Consider cookies that track people’s every online move and apps that collect vast quantities of data unrelated to the service they provide. Next, factor in the extent to which companies compile information about people’s location, purchases, browsing history, race, gender, or age in critical areas like health, finance, and education – data deserving of exacting privacy and security measures. Now overlay those collection practices with the murky but flourishing marketplaces where that information is combined, shared, and monetized, and the contours of the issue begin to take shape.

For decades, the FTC has used Section 5’s prohibition on unfair or deceptive practices to challenge a wide variety of privacy- and security-related conduct. For example, we’ve brought cases against companies that have shared health-related data with third parties, disclosed consumers’ financial information in retaliation for negative online reviews, sold “stalkerware” that let buyers secretly monitor another person’s online activity or physical location, and created and sold advertising dossiers of individual consumers’ TV-viewing habits. We’ve also taken action against companies whose lax security practices allowed third parties to steal – and misuse – consumers’ personal information.

But is law enforcement enough to protect consumers? The explosive growth in the information collection economy suggests it’s time to take an in-depth assessment of how commercial surveillance affects the day-to-day lives of consumers and whether the current consumer protection set-up is sufficient to protect them from harm.

Read the Advance Notice for Proposed Rulemaking for details about the topics on the table. As the FTC undertakes this inquiry, we want your input. Once the Advance Notice runs in the Federal Register, you’ll have 60 days file a public comment. And follow the Business Blog for more information about the September 8th virtual public hearing.

Commercial Surveillance Public Forum






It is your choice whether to submit a comment. If you do, you must create a user name, or we will not post your comment. The Federal Trade Commission Act authorizes this information collection for purposes of managing online comments. Comments and user names are part of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) public records system, and user names also are part of the FTC’s computer user records system. We may routinely use these records as described in the FTC’s Privacy Act system notices. For more information on how the FTC handles information that we collect, please read our privacy policy.

The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.

  • We won’t post off-topic comments, repeated identical comments, or comments that include sales pitches or promotions.
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We don't edit comments to remove objectionable content, so please ensure that your comment contains none of the above. The comments posted on this blog become part of the public domain. To protect your privacy and the privacy of other people, please do not include personal information. Opinions in comments that appear in this blog belong to the individuals who expressed them. They do not belong to or represent views of the Federal Trade Commission.

Gara Jean Cristando
August 17, 2022

Well , since my small business was not only illegally accessed and I was robbed VIA the credit card terminal , I am all for any tracking that needs to keep us a little safer if at all possible . I am out hundreds of thousands of dollars , and not one thing was ever done . Not one

John Smith
August 25, 2022

In reply to by Gara Jean Cristando

That's unfortunate, but not relevant to this topic. The information these big companies gather are bought, shared, and sold amongst themselves and won't keep you safe.

They are tracking you right now, and like you said, not one thing was done when you were robbed. So to your own admission the data this inquiry is about isn't being used to help you at all.

Jane Doe
August 25, 2022

In reply to by Gara Jean Cristando

So, to your own admission, nothing was done when someone stole a substantial amount of money from you. Not a thing was done despite how much these companies are tracking you right now. You're proving that all the information these companies are collecting aren't keeping anyone safe.

August 25, 2022

In reply to by Gara Jean Cristando

Now that you know who I am,let's work together and make our country stronger and better.

August 19, 2022

Please DO NOT expand the Big Brother state that will silence dissent or differing opinions. We as Americans need LESS regulation by Big Brother, rather than more. I was never afraid to speak my mind in 2019. 2020 came along and changed that for most of the world, sadly, including for myself. Now, It is a conscious concern/thought that perhaps I have spoken too much truth to power.

It is the Federal Government's obligation to enable and uphold the constitutional first amendment, not hinder it. This is something 3rd world countries do, not the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

August 19, 2022

What about the Government? Snowden told us what our Government is up to. I believe the
government should clean house before trying to do it with the private sector.
Now, the private sector obviously needs to pull back on the abuse. This is the main reason that EVERYONE - Government and private business insist for us to get a cell phone. What has the government done in this regard? NOTHING! I can't get in many sites without a cell phone number.
Like many people I have an account with PayPal. Until very recently I was able to do ALL my transactions from my desktop. Now PayPal insists that I MUST have a cell phone.
How about the FTC looking into this? I'll wait >>>>>>>Good luck!

James Davidson
August 31, 2022

Well I've had to cancel multiple cards for them being used without my consent from sites that I never visited and just recently my Google account was breached luckily it was locked down quickly and i reported the activity wasn't me but I don't know if they had time to do any damage I'm a nervous wreck wondering if my identity is in jeopardy of being stolen now my honest opinion is the internet was the worst thing ever happened to our lives the very people that have promised us that we are safe when online is the same crooks that have sold our info without our permission Facebook is a good example while I struggle to make ends meet and stay stressed out over money constantly these people become millionaires and they aren't in prison for fraud and theft I'll never understand I'm certified in welding, diesel mechanics, etc., etc., With 25 years experience in the construction and heavy equipment business and since COVID-19 I've almost lost everything including my business I started right before it happened and I set here and watch all this nonsense go on and no one is stopping it or even trying to from where I'm sitting enough is enough when is it going stop and we have some justice for what's being done to us right out in the open!

Peyton Manning Fan
August 23, 2022

I'll say we're at a difficult point in reaching or adapting a broad approach to the issue. While I completely understand a need for company efficiency, I believe the practice surrounding "selective" media ads are not only creating passive deregulation of unfair advantages but has created a new age "unfair exchange" surrounding uncertainties.

Arguably, using peoples information to determine services and products is really no different than walking into a high-end store with a bigot salesperson. The value of your time and dollar is based on your beliefs, attributes, lifestyle and habits. Getting or not getting AVAILABLE product information (yes a public sale is public information) is the difference between getting something cheaper or finding out later when the cost is up.

Example: Bobby got a cake sale commercial ad on Sunday. It costed him 10 dollars and 5 minutes to purchase. Steve didn't get the cake sale ad. He found out later through a friend and by that time he got to purchase one, it costed him 15 dollars and 1 hour of his time.

Somehow Steve was not deemed fit of having the same cost effective lifestyle as Bobby. Was it his age, race, religion, or coupon search, or daily activities that triggered that decision? I guess he just wasn't part of "the club." Private companies are essentially back to deciding who is "worth it" to cut cost, a practice done in recent years before it was deemed it to be "unfair" and discriminatory. It's the very reason regulation exist.

In terms of the financial handling of personal information, there is no financial handle. It could be contributing to why things skyrocketed in terms of value. Let's think about it. From its source to buyer, public information has no structured value. I think one of the larger questions I have personally is how can you exchange something that is not a product? Isn't information still material? I've never seen a material or any byproduct of property that wasn't taxed. Fair enough, information is used as a sort of currency in exchange for services but that comes back to the uncertainty of worth?

Last time I checked, the usually follow-up to "I'd like to buy that from you" is "how much are you willing to sell it for?" Is it a fair exchange? Exactly what is the value in watching a 5 minute video or pushing the like button? Does it depreciate? There is no pendulum in value. For all that it is costing us, seems we aren't getting any "fair value" in return.

I really need an economist to help me figure things out in this matter I guess.

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