Why regulators need to grok new tech

FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny said regulators need to understand technology before they seek to regulate it.

FTC chair Terrell McSweeny

Regulators need to avoid the mistake of meddling with technology they don't understand, said FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny.

One of the biggest mistakes policymakers can commit when it comes to regulating emerging technologies is failing to understand what it is they are trying to regulate, said Federal Trade Commissioner head Terrell McSweeny.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning and the internet of things do share similarities, McSweeny said at an Oct. 19 Center for Data Innovation event in Washington, D.C. "But they are distinct technologies and ultimately may require slightly different policy responses" to protect consumers.

These technological advancements and high-powered computing capabilities offer new opportunities, McSweeny said, "but the explosion of data collection and use is creating new risks for consumers and enterprises for criminals."

"Every innovation is reliant on consumer trust," she continued. "Unfortunately, consumer faith in their data security is relatively low. In a recent poll, 84 percent of U.S. households express concern about privacy and security, and one in five report being a victim of a security breach."

McSweeny said such numbers are consistent with data collected by the FTC, which shows that identity theft is far and away the biggest consumer complaint. McSweeny added she fears the lack of "consumer trust might be affecting IOT adoption, and I'm afraid we're just beginning to see some of the impacts of insecure devices on trust."

In the past, McSweeny has insisted the FTC will stick to an enforcement role rather than a regulatory one when it comes to emerging tech. However, she touted the FTC's privacy enforcement efforts to keep pace with modernization.

In addition to playing enforcer on cases health information and router security, McSweeny said the FTC has issued guidances on the internet of things, privacy and data, conducted in-house research on financial technology, drones, ransomware and smart TVs and hired computer scientists and researchers.

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