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BigBrotherEye-GettyImages-149355675-600pxIf your company collects information regarding consumers though Internet-connected devices, you will want to take note of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) recent privacy-related settlement (brought in conjunction with the New Jersey Attorney General) with smart TV manufacturer Vizio, Inc. The settlement is significant for four reasons:

  • The FTC reinforces the position it has taken in other actions that the collection and use of information in a way that would surprise the consumer requires just-in-time notice and choice in order to avoid a charge of deception and/or unfairness under Section 5 of the FTC Act.
  • The FTC takes the position that television viewing activity constitutes sensitive data. This marks a departure from its approach of limiting sensitive data to information that, for example, can facilitate identity theft, precisely locate an individual, is collected online from young children or relates to matters generally considered delicate (such as health information).
  • The settlement includes a payment of $1.5 million to the FTC (as well as payment of civil penalties to New Jersey), but the legal basis for the FTC payment is not stated. This could suggest that the FTC will more aggressively seek to obtain injunctive monetary relief in Section 5 cases.
  • Acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen explicitly noted in a concurring statement her skepticism regarding both the allegation that TV viewing data is “sensitive” and that the FTC’s complaint adequately established that the practices at issue constitute “substantial injury” under the unfairness prong of Section 5.

Leaving aside what the chairwoman’s concurrence may portend for future enforcement efforts, the FTC again seems to be using allegedly bad facts about privacy practices to push the envelope of its authority. Accordingly, with the Internet of Things boom fueling a dramatic increase in the number of Internet-connected devices, companies that either collect information via such devices or make use of such collected information should consider the implications of this enforcement action.


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Devices_482856241Well over a year after holding a workshop addressing privacy issues associated with cross-device tracking, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff have issued a report. The report sets the stage by describing how cross-device tracking works, noting its “benefits and challenges,” and reviewing (and largely commending) current industry self-regulatory efforts.

The report also makes recommendations, which—while building upon the staff’s traditional themes of transparency and choice—do not introduce any materially new suggestions for compliance.

The staff’s recommendations do not have the force of law, but they do indicate the steps that the staff believes a company should take in order to avoid a charge of unfairness or deception under Section 5 of the FTC Act.

A Quick Review of Cross-Device Tracking

As more consumers utilize multiple devices in their daily lives, more and more companies are using new technologies to attempt to ascertain that multiple devices are connected to the same person. This is generally done through the use of either deterministic information (e.g., by recognizing a user through the log-in credentials he or she uses across different devices) or probabilistic information (i.e., by inferring that multiple devices are used by the same person based on information about the devices, such as IP address, location, and activities on the devices).


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Recent enforcement decisions within the digital advertising industry indicate a shift in—and a clarification of—the required disclosures for companies engaged in interest-based advertising (IBA).

In particular, these decisions, taken together, indicate that an app developer’s link to its privacy policy at the point of app download may be deemed insufficient, unless the link points

Social media is all about innovation, so it is no surprise that social media marketers are always looking for innovative ways—such as courting social media “influencers” and using native advertising—to promote products and services to customers and potential customers. But, as the retailer Lord & Taylor recently learned, the legal rules that govern traditional

Magnifying2In a new report, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) declines to call for new laws but makes clear that it will continue to use its existing tools it to aggressively police unfair, deceptive—or otherwise illegal—uses of big data. Businesses that conduct big data analytics, or that use the results of such analysis, should familiarize themselves with the report to help ensure that their practices do not raise issues.

The report, titled “Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion? Understanding the Issues” grew out of a 2014 FTC workshop that brought together stakeholders to discuss big data’s potential to both create opportunities for consumers and discriminate against them. The Report aims to educate businesses on key laws, and also outlines concrete steps that businesses can take to maximize the benefits of big data while avoiding potentially exclusionary or discriminatory outcomes.

What Is “Big Data”?

The Report explains that “big data” arises from a confluence of factors, including the nearly ubiquitous collection of consumer data from a variety of sources, the plummeting cost of data storage, and powerful new capabilities of drawing connections and making inferences and predictions from collected data. The Report describes the life cycle of big data as involving four phases:

  • Collection: Little bits of data are collected about individual consumers from a variety of sources, such as online shopping, cross-device tracking, online cookies or the Internet of Things (i.e., connected products or services).
  • Compilation and Consolidation: The “little” data is compiled and consolidated into “big” data, often by data brokers who build profiles about individual consumers.
  • Data Mining and Analytics: The “big” data is analyzed to uncover patterns of past consumer behavior or predict future consumer behavior.
  • Use: Once analyzed, big data is used by companies to enhance the development of new products, individualize their marketing, and target potential consumers.

The Report focuses on the final phase of the life cycle: the use of big data. It explores how consumers may be both helped and harmed by companies’ use of big data.

Benefits and Risks of Big Data

The Report emphasizes that, from a policy perspective, big data can provide significant opportunities for social improvements: big data can help target educational, credit, health care, and employment opportunities to low-income and underserved communities.  For instance, the Report notes that big data is already being used to benefit underserved communities, such as by providing access to credit using nontraditional methods to establish creditworthiness, tailoring health care to individual patients’ characteristics, and increasing equal access to employment to hire more diverse workforces.
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brand advertising word cloud

“Native advertising”—ads that may blur the distinction between advertising and editorial, video or other content—has been a hot topic in recent years for both marketers and regulators. It is popular with marketers because it is apparently an effective advertising model. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), on the other hand, contends that it may be deceptive

Word Cloud with Influence related tags

In an age of explosive growth for social media and declining TV viewership numbers, companies are partnering with so-called “influencers” to help the companies grow their brands. Popular users of Instagram, Vine, YouTube and other social media sites have gained celebrity status, generating millions of views, impressions and “likes” with every upload.

Capitalizing on the shift from traditional media to online platforms, advertisers have begun to engage influencers in marketing campaigns. In a May 2015 study, 84% of marketers said they expect to launch at least one influencer marketing campaign in the next 12 months. Of those who had already done so, 81% said influencer engagement was effective. In a separate study, 22% of marketers rated influencer marketing as the fastest-growing online customer-acquisition method.

So what is an influencer, anyway? By its broadest definition, an influencer is any person who has influence over the ideas and behaviors of others. When it comes to social media, an influencer could be someone with millions of followers or a user with just a few loyal subscribers. One thing that all influencers seem to have in common is that their audiences trust them. As such, influencers can be powerful advocates, lending credibility, increasing engagement and ultimately driving consumer actions.

Influencer marketing can be an effective tool, but it’s important to do right. As recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigations demonstrate, online advertising is an area of relatively active enforcement, and influencer marketing presents a number of potential legal issues. The following tips can help companies lead successful influencer marketing campaigns while lessening the risk of liability.

Disclosure Is Key

In September, the FTC settled a case with Machinima, a company that paid popular video bloggers to promote Microsoft’s Xbox One system through YouTube. Despite the hefty sums paid out to the gamers (one of whom pocketed $30,000), Machinima did not require them to make any disclosures. The FTC alleged that the failure to disclose the relationship between Machinima and the gamers was deceptive, in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. In its Endorsement Guides, the FTC has taken the position that a failure to disclose unexpected material connections between companies and the individuals who endorse them is deceptive.

This case raises two important questions: (1) when is a disclosure required and (2) what constitutes adequate disclosure?
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Woman using multiple devices phone laptop and tablet lying in a wood bench in a park

Cross-device tracking is a hot new issue for regulators. Companies engaged in the practice should take note of two recent developments. On November 16, 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted a workshop on the issue and, perhaps not coincidentally, on the same day the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) addressed the applicability of its interest-based

California State on vector technology pattern BackgroundLast week was a big one for California’s privacy regime.

In a landmark move, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law four bills further protecting Californians’ privacy rights: Three strengthen the state’s data breach notification statute and impose restrictions on operators of automated license plate recognition systems (ALPRs), and one requires law enforcement to obtain a

Federal Trade Commission Doorway Sign

In December 2014, we noted that the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) settlement with advertising firm Deutsch LA, Inc. was a clear signal to companies that advertise through social media that they need to comply with the disclosure requirements of Section 5 of the FTC Act. On September 2, 2015, the FTC announced a settlement along