Public Policy

Federal Trade Commission to Look at Ransomware, Drones and SmartTV This Fall


The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced on 31 March that it will host a series of open meetings this fall to examine three emerging technologies that are raising important consumer protection issues. The half-day events, to be held in Washington, D.C., will explore ransomware, unmanned aerial vehicles and smart TV, and draw on input from academics, business and industry representatives, government experts, and consumer advocates. The FTC will also solicit public comments in response to questions posed on each topic, which can be submitted online through the event’s website.

Charged with the twin mission of promoting competition, and protecting and educating consumers, the FTC has increasingly focused on emerging technologies and their consumer implications in recent years. Last year, FTC’s fall technology seminar series examined the privacy implications of mobile device tracking, consumer generated health data, and alternative scoring techniques. More recently, FTC held a workshop on cross-device tracking, as well as the first-of-its-kind PrivacyCon, which provided a platform for presentation of novel research on privacy issues.

The first planned session, to be held on 7 Sept., will focus on ransomware. According to the FTC, ransomware hackers are sneaking into consumer and business computers with increasing frequency, encrypting files containing photos, documents and other important data, and then demanding a ransom in exchange for the key needed to decrypt the files. Consumers, businesses and government agencies have fallen prey to these schemes, and hackers are increasingly turning their attention to targeting files on personal mobile devices. In addition to better understanding how ransomware extortionists gain access to consumer and business computers, the workshop will explore what steps consumers and businesses should be taking to reduce the risk of ransomwear, and whether technological measures exist that computer operating systems and web browser designers can implement to deter or at least give advance warning of ransomware attempts.

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The next session, on 13 Oct., will look at unmanned aerial vehicles, with a focus on consumer uses and benefits of drones, along with the unique privacy and security concerns that they create. Unmanned aerial systems are currently one of the most popular consumer technology purchases, with sales projections of over one million units in 2016. Basic consumer drones feature high-definition cameras, GPS and the ability to fly autonomously, while commercial drones possess even more sophisticated capabilities for monitoring and inspection, and can be used in various contexts such as news reporting, search and rescue missions, or delivery of commercial packages or medicine to rural areas. In contrast to these beneficial applications, the largely unregulated proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles has also resulted in consumer harms, including invasions of privacy, trespass and harassment.

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The final workshop, on 7 Dec., will examine television delivery systems ” smart TVs, streaming devices, game consoles, apps, and even old-fashioned set-top boxes ” and their ability to track consumers’ viewing habits, sometimes in new and unexpected ways. Television and streaming device manufacturers, software developers, and the advertising industry are collaborating to create and deploy new tracking technologies to learn more about what consumers are watching so that advertisers can precisely target consumers and evaluate ad effectiveness. But few consumers understand the extent to which their entertainment preferences are being tracked, disclosed and used for various purposes.

For more information, see:

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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