I am honored to announce the creation of the Office of Technology (OT) at the Federal Trade Commission, a team that will provide technical expertise across agency matters and strengthen the agency’s ability to enforce the nation’s competition and consumer protection laws. We are hiring technologists to join the team.
Staying on the cutting edge of emerging technology has long been a core part of the FTC's mandate. The emergence of the radio in the 1920s is an especially vivid example. The radio was becoming ubiquitous in American living rooms, creating dramatically new possibilities for entertainment and information. At the same time, this new device provided a potent new vector for false advertising. Amidst an influenza pandemic, Vit-O-Net claimed its heating pad induced magnetic field that could provide a cure for rheumatism and a variety of other bodily ills. Fairyfoot Company promised an adhesive plaster pad that could instantly dissolve bunion pain to achieve bunion-free feet.
Ads like these became so problematic and widespread in the 1930s that the relatively new Federal Trade Commission, recently empowered by Congress to police “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” launched the Special Board of Investigation to study a massive volume of radio transcript data. When the agency received complaints about false or misleading ads, staff would request samples of all ad copies published, along with samples and formulas of the product in question. Staff consulted expert federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Public Health Service for scientific and medical opinions to detect unlawful fraud and abuse. By leveraging these resources and sharpening investigative methods, the agency managed to adapt to the rapid change brought about by radio technology.
Today's technological challenges are even more daunting than those of the radio era. Still, they raise systemic concerns that would have been familiar to enforcers in the 1930s. The common thread is that some technologies can facilitate substantial injury to consumers, are misleading, or may negatively affect competitive conditions. From the rise of the surveillance economy, to companies' widespread application of artificial intelligence, to business models that employ tech to disrupt markets, the shift in the pace and volume of technological changes means that more FTC matters need team members with tech expertise. To stay on top of developments, we can’t rely solely on a case-by-case approach to engaging experts. We need to strengthen our in-house capacity to develop new skills and methods to investigate and mitigate widespread consumer and market harms.
In 2023, the OT will better equip the agency to approach current and future tech threats by building a team of technologists with deep expertise across a range of specialized fields, including data security, software engineering, data science, digital markets, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and human-computer interaction design. This centralized team will be led by the agency’s Chief Technology Officer and deployed to meet interdisciplinary needs across the FTC.
The Office of Technology’s top priority is to work with staff and leadership across the agency to strengthen and support the agency on enforcement investigations and litigated cases. This could mean dissecting claims made about an AI-powered product to assess whether the offering is oozing with snake oil, or whether automated decision systems for teacher evaluations adversely impact employment decisions and make inferences that impact compensation and tenure. We will also keep a finger on the pulse of business model change, like shifts in digital advertising ecosystems, to help the FTC understand the implications on privacy, competition, and consumer protection. We’re working with attorneys and data scientists to decipher the collection and sale of location data and how that data may harm consumers, and to understand the opaque algorithms making decisions affecting millions of consumers. We are tracking emerging technologies like augmented and virtual reality, where immersive environments provide new types of data and ways to collect, use, and make inferences from it. And we are helping the agency  such as by requiring companies to implement multi-factor authentication measures that are resistant to phishing or requiring companies to develop a data retention schedule, publish it, and then stick to it.
Beyond enforcement matters, we serve as subject matter experts to advise and engage with FTC staff and the Commission on policy and research initiatives. Our Office of Congressional Relations may need to gather intel for incoming bills or policy research, whether it’s deciphering the latest applications of blockchain or unpacking unfair design practices that can cause substantial physical and other injuries to minors through features that aim to maximize engagement and data collection. We liaise with our Office of International Affairs to cultivate meaningful relationships with international regulatory units – studying, identifying, and integrating best practices from other agencies to best fit the needs and culture of the Commission.
We will also engage and inform outside experts and the public to advance the Commission’s work. Our team recently presented at an Open Commission Meeting on the agency's approach to systemically address data security risks, we have engaged in research and academic conferences, and we published blog posts on the Log4j security vulnerability and effective breach notification.
As we move forward, we will continue to work with Bureau technologists and attorneys who have deep institutional knowledge and enforcement expertise. Today’s milestone is possible because of the contributions of expert technologists and practitioners in the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, the Office of Technology, Research and Investigation, and the Technology Enforcement Division who have already demonstrated the value of technical expertise to bolster the FTC’s casework. We look forward to uniting technologist efforts to better support and cultivate the work of our team to create and scale best practices and promote stronger interdisciplinary collaboration.
Beyond the FTC, the establishment of the Office of Technology is in line with practices of other federal agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Justice. Law enforcement agencies in other countries have also increased tech capacity, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Korea, Germany, and the Netherlands. This goes beyond increasing tech capacity to build products and services. We‘re bringing in sharp technologists to translate complex systems, and to work with attorneys to enforce the law and shape policy matters.
Today’s action marks a significant commitment to sustaining a structure for technologists in and across the FTC. A lot has changed since the radio age, but some things haven’t. Whether the underlying technology is a radio or a mobile app or a tracking pixel, the Commission will continue to hold technology companies accountable for complying with the consumer protection and competition laws we enforce. The Office of Technology will play a key role in that effort.
We are hiring technologists and hope you will help us spread the word: https://www.ftc.gov/technologists
Thank you to the current and alumni FTC technologists for their work in building these foundations at the agency and my colleagues for reviewing this piece.
1 William Kovacic & Marc Winerman, Outpost Years for a Start-up Agency: The FTC from 1921-1925, 77 Antitrust L.J. 145 (2010).
 In re Vit-O-Net Corp., 14 F.T.C. 140 (1930).
 In re Fairyfoot Products Co., 20 F.T.C. 40 (1934).
 Nancy Rockafellar, “In Gauze We Trust”: Public Health and Spanish Influenza on the Home Front, Seattle, 1918-1919, 77 Pac. Nw. Quarterly 3, 104-113 (1986).
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, Our History, https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/history.
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, Annual Report of the Federal Trade Commission (1939), https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/reports_annual/annual-report-1939/ar1939_0.pdf.
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, Annual Report of the Federal Trade Commission (1935), https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/reports_annual/annual-report-1935/ar1935_0.pdf.
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, A Brief Overview of the Federal Trade Commission’s Investigative, Law Enforcement, and Rulemaking Authority (2021), https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/mission/enforcement-authority.
 Press Release, Fed. Trade Comm’n, FTC Explores Rules Cracking Down on Commercial Surveillance and Lax Data Security Practices (Aug. 11, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/08/ftc-explores-rules-cracking-down-commercial-surveillance-lax-data-security-practices.
 Press Release, Fed. Trade Comm’n, FTC Report Warns About Using Artificial Intelligence to Combat Online Problems (June 16, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/06/ftc-report-warns-about-using-artificial-intelligence-combat-online-problems.
 Press Release, Fed. Trade Comm’n, FTC to Crack Down on Companies Taking Advantage of Gig Workers (Sept. 15, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/09/ftc-crack-down-companies-taking-advantage-gig-workers.
 Rashida Richardson, Defining and Demystifying Automated Decision Systems, 81 Md. L. Rev. 785 (2022).
 Brittan Heller, Watching Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Immersive Technology, Biometric Psychography, and the Law, 23 Vanderbilt J. Entm’t and Tech. L. 1 (2021), https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/jetlaw/vol23/iss1/1/.
 See, e.g., Kate Kaye, Overturning Roe Could Change How Digital Advertisers Use Location Data. Can They Regulate Themselves?, Protocol (June 29, 2022), https://www.protocol.com/enterprise/roe-location-data-digital-advertising.
 Alex Gaynor, Security Principles: Addressing Underlying Causes of Risk in Complex Systems, Tech@FTC (Feb. 1, 2023), https://www.ftc.gov/policy/advocacy-research/tech-at-ftc/2023/02/security-principles-addressing-underlying-causes-risk-complex-systems.
 Press Release, Fed. Trade Comm’n, FTC Takes Action Against Drizly and its CEO James Cory Rellas for Security Failures that Exposed Data of 2.5 Million Consumers (Oct. 24, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/10/ftc-takes-action-against-drizly-its-ceo-james-cory-rellas-security-failures-exposed-data-25-million.
 Decision and Order, In re Drizly, LLC, FTC Docket No. 2023185 (Jan. 10, 2023); Decision and Order, In re Chegg, Inc., FTC Docket No. 2023151 (Jan. 26, 2023).
 Dylan Yaga et al., Blockchain Technology Overview, Nat’l Inst. of Standards and Tech. (Oct. 2018), https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/ir/2018/NIST.IR.8202.pdf.
 Press Release, Fed. Trade Comm’n, FTC Announces Tentative Agenda for December 14 Open Commission Meeting (Dec. 7, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/12/ftc-announces-tentative-agenda-december-14-open-commission-meeting.
 See Alex Gaynor, Security Principles, supra note 16.
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, PrivacyCon 2022 (Nov. 1, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/events/2022/11/privacycon-2022.
 For example, our team participated in the 2023 Enigma Conference. See Enigma 2023 Conference Program (Jan. 24, 2023), https://www.usenix.org/conference/enigma2023/program.
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, FTC Warns Companies to Remediate Log4j Security Vulnerability, Tech@FTC (Jan 4, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/policy/advocacy-research/tech-at-ftc/2022/01/ftc-warns-companies-remediate-log4j-security-vulnerability
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, Security Beyond Prevention: The Importance of Effective Breach Disclosures, Tech@FTC (May 20, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/policy/advocacy-research/tech-at-ftc/2022/05/security-beyond-prevention-importance-effective-breach-disclosures.
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/bureaus-offices/bureau-consumer-protection/our-divisions/division-privacy-and-identity.
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Division of Technology Research & Investigation, https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/bureaus-offices/bureau-consumer-protection/our-divisions/office-technology-research-investigation.
 Fed. Trade Comm’n, Bureau of Competition, Technology Enforcement Division, https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/bureaus-offices/bureau-competition/inside-bureau-competition/ftc-technology-enforcement-division.
 See Stefan Hunt, The CMA DaTA Unit – We’re Growing!, U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (May 28, 2019), https://competitionandmarkets.blog.gov.uk/2019/05/28/the-cma-data-unit-were-growing/; U.K. Competition and Markets Authority, Digital Markets Unit, https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/digital-markets-unit.
 Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, https://www.accc.gov.au/.
 Competition Bureau Canada, https://ised-isde.canada.ca/site/competition-bureau-canada/en.
 Autorité de la Concurrence, https://www.autoritedelaconcurrence.fr/en.
 Japan Fair Trade Commission, https://www.jftc.go.jp/en/.
 Korea Fair Trade Commission, https://www.ftc.go.kr/eng/index.do.
 Bundeskartellamt, https://www.bundeskartellamt.de/EN/Home/home_node.html.
 Netherlands Authority for Consumers & Markets, https://www.acm.nl/en.
 U.K. Government Digital Service, https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2015/01/20/gds-usds/.
 Press Release, Fed. Trade Comm’n, FTC, States Sue Google and iHeartMedia for Deceptive Ads Promoting the Pixel 4 Smartphone (Nov. 28, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/11/ftc-states-sue-google-iheartmedia-deceptive-ads-promoting-pixel-4-smartphone.
 Press Release, Fed. Trade Comm’n, FTC Finalizes Settlement with Photo App Developer Related to Misuse of Facial Recognition Technology (May 7, 2021), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2021/05/ftc-finalizes-settlement-photo-app-developer-related-misuse-facial-recognition-technology.
 Press Release, Fed. Trade Comm’n, FTC Enforcement Action to Bar GoodRx from Sharing Consumers’ Sensitive Health Info for Advertising (Feb. 1, 2023), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2023/02/ftc-enforcement-action-bar-goodrx-sharing-consumers-sensitive-health-info-advertising.
 Special thanks to Jason Adler, Lerone Banks, Krisha Cerilli, Gilad Edelman, Mark Eichorn, Patricia Galvan, Alex Gaynor, Nick Jones, Zehra Khan, Tara Isa Koslov, Sam Levine, Josephine Liu, Erik Martin, Varoon Mathur, Kevin Moriarty, John Newman, Rashida Richardson, Robert Swenson, Holly Vedova, Ben Wiseman, and Daniel Zhao.