• FTC to Hold Hearing on High-Tech Issues
  • February 24, 2006
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • The Federal Trade Commission will hold hearings to explore emerging consumer issues in the high-tech global marketplace, according to FTC Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras.

    On February 9, 2006, remarks at a meeting of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Anti-Spyware Coalition, Majoras disclosed that the FTC plans to host experts from the business, government, and technology sectors; consumer advocates; academicians; and enforcement officials to explore the ways in which technology development and convergence and the continued globalization of commerce affect consumer protection issues.

    The FTC is all over the high-tech bandwagon: Majoras' remarks will be available on the first-ever FTC podcast and downloadable video file.

    It's been more than a decade since the agency has held similar hearings, and times have changed, Majoras noted. In the 1995 hearing, which included more than 70 experts in various related industries, "no one even mentioned spyware or similar intrusive software. Today, however, spyware is fast overtaking spam as consumers' top on-line concern." She added that it is "understandable that the hearing participants did not predict the emergence of this digital menace called spyware. Ten years now is an eternity for technology, and the technological underpinnings for spyware were just being developed at about the time of the FTC's hearings."

    Nonetheless, Majoras identified four lessons from the 1995 hearings that are still relevant today:

    • We must study and evaluate new technologies so that we are as prepared as possible to deal with harmful, collateral developments;
    • We need to bring appropriate law enforcement actions to reaffirm that fundamental principles of FTC law apply in the context of new technologies;
    • We must look to industry to implement self-regulatory regimes and, more importantly, to develop new technologies; and
    • We need to educate consumers so that they can take steps to protect themselves.

    The hearings, scheduled for the fall, "will address a series of critical questions: What have we learned over the past decade? How can we apply those lessons to what we do know, and what we cannot know, as we look to the future? And how can we best protect consumers in a marketplace that now knows no bounds, that is virtual, 24-7, and truly global?"

    Significance: Of course, the FTC has not stood still on issues like spam, spyware and identity theft. But the hearings will give the agency the opportunity to focus attention on consumer protection in the high-tech marketplace and update and coordinate regulatory initiatives and enforcement efforts.