The official calendar for Joshua Wright, a commissioner with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, shows he has had many meetings with technology company lobbyists, but none with consumer advocates, even though consumer protection is a major part of the agency's mission.
Wright, a Republican appointed as commissioner in January 2013, has had only a couple of meetings related to consumer privacy and none with any consumer privacy groups, according to the calendar, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Wright's office disputes the allegation that he has failed to meet with consumer groups, saying he has met with more than a half-dozen consumer advocacy groups. Wright has met with the American Antitrust Institute, a consumer-focused antitrust enforcement advocacy group, and has discussed privacy and consumer protection issues with the National Asian American Coalition, according to his office, but those meetings don't show up on his calendar.
Instead of meeting with consumer groups, Wright, a former law professor at George Mason University in Virginia, has met with a parade of technology vendors and other businesses at the same time that the FTC has focused a significant amount of its energy on online privacy and data breach issues.
In his first 15 months in office, Wright has met with, among others, representatives of Amazon.com, Verizon Communications, Uber, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Zillow and app developer Rovio. He has also met with representatives of the Network Advertising Initiative, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Online Publishers Association, the App Developers Alliance, the Consumer Data Industry Association, two free-market think tanks and the conservative Federalist Society.
Wright was traveling Friday, but his office said he welcomes meetings with consumer groups. "Commissioner Wright has had and continues to have an open-door policy with respect to meetings with public interest groups -- including consumer and privacy organizations -- that are relevant to the scope of the FTC's work and mission," the statement said.
EPIC sought the calendar after Wright turned down three requests by members of the Privacy Coalition to meet with him, said Jeramie Scott, the coalition's coordinator at EPIC. In response to the third request, made in late January 2013, a staffer for Wright said the commissioner could not meet with the coalition "in light of other speaking engagements and obligations." Wright's adviser suggested the group follow up with the office in the fall of 2013.
A major part of the FTC's mission is to prevent unfair business practices that hurt consumers, Scott noted. "Commissioner Wright's unwillingness to meet with privacy groups while meeting with industry lobbyists raises troubling questions about his continued role at the FTC," he added. "It leaves a bad impression to only meet with company representatives and trade organizations and not give equal time to consumers and public-interest organizations that represent consumers."
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