Emerging Tech

FTC in no rush to regulate Internet of Things

Shutterstock image (by a-image): connected devices around the world.

(Image: a-image / Shutterstock)

Addressing consumer privacy and security is a major topic facing the snowballing Internet of Things, but prescriptive regulations are not likely to come from the Federal Trade Commission, Commissioner Terrell McSweeny said Feb. 8 at an event sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

McSweeny said the biggest issue facing the Internet of Things -- the catchall term for the increasing connectivity of devices such as cars, thermostats and cell phones -- is "getting the balance right between protecting consumers and optimizing innovation."

"We need to make sure consumers can trust these products," she said. "The most important piece of consumer trust is making sure the data they're sharing -- their private information -- is held securely and the devices themselves are secure."

Juniper Research projects that the number of devices connected to the Internet will almost triple from 13.4 billion in 2015 to 38.5 billion in 2020. Many experts have questioned how consumer privacy protections can keep pace with that scale of increasing connectivity.

McSweeny emphasized the importance of relevant industries having strong, voluntary self-regulation and best practices, rather than having the FTC impose rigid, sweeping standards.

"The FTC is generally an enforcement agency, not a regulator," she said. "We're not trying to write a big, broad set of regulations around a sector.... Cybersecurity for cars might look very different from cybersecurity for toasters."

"There are ways to put out a comprehensive data security framework that's not overly prescriptive and would apply to everyone," she added.

Such a framework is not without precedent. McSweeny cited the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act for the financial industry, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act as examples.

When asked if she had any advice for the next presidential administration, McSweeny shared two final thoughts: "The first thing I would really urge...is not to unwind a lot of good process that have been done by this administration," such as the expansion of open data and expanded roles for technologists in government.

"The last thing I would say is we really are at a critical moment where we want to oppose forces that might break apart the Internet and cause it to be totally fractured," she added "We need to think about how we can keep the Internet as open and free and available for innovation as we possibly can."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies. Connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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