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FTC Commissioner Wright's calendar heavy on lobbyists, light on consumer groups

Grant Gross | April 7, 2014
The FTC's Joshua Wright has met primarily with representatives of businesses and trade groups during his first 15 months in office.

EPIC has organized meetings between members of the Privacy Coalition and nearly all FTC commissioners over the past decade, including meetings with eight commissioners since 2001. The Privacy Coalition, made up of consumer, civil liberties, education and technology groups focused on protecting consumer privacy, has also met with seven FTC staffers since June 2009.

Wright has scheduled a handful of privacy-related meetings during his time as commissioner. In May, he met with privacy expert Peter Swire, who then served as co-chairman of an effort at the World Wide Web Consortium to create industry-driven standards to allow Web users to opt out of online tracking. Some privacy groups have called for Congress to pass do-not-track rules, instead of standards written by industry groups.

And in June, Wright met with a representative of Evidon, a Web analytics firm that offers a service allowing Web users to opt out of online tracking and provides software allowing them to see what companies are tracking them. In October, he met with representatives of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a trade group that advocates for strong antitrust enforcement action in the tech industry.

Wright has generally advocated for less aggressive enforcement by the FTC, but told senators during a confirmation hearing in December 2012 that he believes the commission should act to protect consumers against fraud and anticompetitive behavior.

"I profoundly respect the Federal Trade Commission as an institution, its role in protecting markets and consumers, and its mission in ensuring the effective operation of markets," he said then. "I believe greatly in the commission's fundamental mission to protect consumers."

The FTC has five commissioners -- one of the spots is currently unfilled -- who vote on the actions the agency takes. In recent weeks, the FTC issued a complaint against three propane dealers on the amount of fuel in their tanks, reached a settlement with Fandango and Credit Karma on charges their mobile apps failed to secure the transmission of consumers' sensitive personal information, and approved a final settlement with Apple over in-app purchases by children not authorized by their parents.

Wright's work before he was appointed commissioner at the FTC largely focused on antitrust law, which is a major focus of the agency, in addition to consumer protection. Wright has spoken about antitrust issues at several conferences since taking office.

One of Wright's most high-profile actions at the FTC was disagreeing with the majority when other commissioners voted this January to require Apple to pay at least US$32.5 million for in-app purchases made by children without their parents' consent. The FTC had received tens of thousands of complaints about Apple's decision to allow users of its devices to make multiple in-app purchases within a 15-minute window without reentering their password, the FTC said.

 

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