April 9-10, 2019 - Georgetown Law Professors Testify at FTC Hearing on Consumer Privacy

Four Georgetown Law faculty will testify this week at the FTC’s hearings on approaches to consumer privacy. Associate Dean Paul Ohm, Professor David Vladeck, the Privacy Center’s Executive Director Laura Moy and Adjunct Professor Marc Groman join a mix of consumer advocates, academics, industry voices and other experts in a two-day hearing, part of the FTC’s series of hearings on Protecting Consumers and Competition in the 21st Century.

In the day’s opening panel, Associate Dean Paul Ohm joined Neil Chilson, former FTC Chief Technology Officer, and Alistair Mactaggart, chairman of Californians for Consumer Privacy, to discuss the goals of privacy protection. In his remarks, Ohm challenged the FTC to think about the harms it is positioned to address — not just those it has historically addressed. He predicted an increasing need for the agency and other enforcers to focus on “dark patterns”, tricks used to manipulate users into clicking buttons or selecting options they wouldn’t otherwise choose. Bipartisan legislation on dark patterns was introduced by Senator Mark Warner and Deb Fischer today.

Ohm also referenced his prior calls for regulation that adjusts based on the scale of various companies, noting that companies with millions of customers should be held to higher standards than those with a small user base. Ohm wrote about that theory in the Georgetown Law Technology Review 2018 Symposium issue, available here.

Later in the day, the Privacy Center’s Laura Moy joined a panel focused on current approaches to privacy protection. The panel noted the benefits and drawbacks of various privacy frameworks, with Moy noting that traditional focus on individual harms fail to account for societal harms, including discriminatory advertising, amplification of hate speech, misinformation and disinformation. Referencing current discussions about federal privacy legislation, she emphasized that a strong patchwork of state laws will better protect consumers than a weak federal standard.

The hearings continue tomorrow, with Georgetown professor David Vladeck, former head of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, and adjunct professor Marc Groman, former head of privacy in the Office of Management Budget joining a full line-up. The livestream is available at https://competition-consumer-protection-hearings.videoshowcase.net/.

Good coverage of the hearings is available on Twitter at #ftchearings.

The FTC’s James Cooper, former FTC Chief Technology Officer Neil Chilson, Alastair Mactaggart and Georgetown’s Paul Ohm speak at the FTC’s hearing on consumer privacy

The FTC’s James Cooper, former FTC Chief Technology Officer Neil Chilson, Alastair Mactaggart and Georgetown’s Paul Ohm speak at the FTC’s hearing on consumer privacy