The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) Settlement in FTC v. Vizio, Inc. may signal the direction that agency is heading on Internet of Things (IoT) enforcement. With veteran FTC enforcer Jessica Rich leaving and new appointee Maureen Ohlhausen taking over, Ohlhausen’s separate concurring statement in that matter is insightful.
The settlement took a broad view on the types of data that require protection. While the “Covered Information” included information like personal identifiers, IP address, and geolocation, it also included “Viewing Data,” which is essentially data about the content viewed on a television. Ohlhausen criticized this expansion and the FTC’s foray into this public policy basis for alleging an unfair practice. She notes, “But here, for the first time, the FTC has alleged in a complaint that individualized television viewing activity falls within the definition of sensitive information.” Hinting that this broad view of personal data may not continue, Ohlhausen writes, “There may be good policy reasons to consider such information sensitive…. But, under our statute, we cannot find a practice unfair based primarily on public policy. Instead, we must determine whether the practice causes substantial injury that is not reasonably avoidable by the consumer and is not outweighed by benefits to competition or consumers.” She then promises that “[i]n the coming weeks I will launch an effort to examine this important issue further.”