For the FTC, privacy is an ecosystem issue

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has its eye on the privacy practices of a wide variety of data-collecting players, the deputy director of the agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said on Wednesday.

Speaking on the first morning of Gigaom’s Structure Data show in New York, Daniel Kaufman said the rise of mobile ecosystems and the internet of things, with the myriad companies and devices they involve, required a broad view.

For example, Kaufman said, the FTC targeted HTC over privacy-busting security flaws and Android(s goog) flashlight app maker Goldenshores over its deceptive privacy policy. The agency even has a “mobile lab” staffed with technologists and attorneys who check out where devices and apps send users’ data, and how that squares with their claimed privacy policies.

“For us we have to look at the entire ecosystem and make sure all the players are doing what they should be doing and what the law allows,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman, who said he would like to see the introduction of civil penalties for some breaches, said the FTC was still grappling with the implications of new technologies. For example, a recent workshop on the internet of things highlighted the issue of the ubiquitous collection data across both space and time – and also the difficulties caused by more traditional companies coming into the technology space.

“Having information about you in one spot but [also] where you travel and go creates a lot of challenges,” he said. “We are also dealing with entities that have not traditionally focused on privacy by design.”

Ultimately, though, Kaufman said the FTC had to strike a balance between ensuring robust privacy practices and “not stifling innocation.”

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” he added.

Check out a video embed of the session below:

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Photo courtesy of Jakub Mosur

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