How and why to submit FTC comments on Commercial Surveillance and Data Security (UPDATED)
The deadline is now Friday, November 21. ftccomments.com is the easiest way, or you can use regulations.gov to submit more detailed comments
Originally publishes October 11, last updated November 3 with typo fixes.
The deadline for comments to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on commercial surveillance and data security practices that harm consumers has been extended until November 21! This Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPR”) is the first step in a process that could lead to new regulations to stop companies from abusing our data.
Before we get to the details, let's start with why it's valuable to participate. As Fight for the Future says
We know the companies that profit off our data will dispatch an army of lobbyists to argue for rules in their favor. But if enough of us mobilize we can demand the FTC protect our privacy, data, and lives.
If you've only got a minute, Fight for the Future's webform at ftccomments.com is the easiest way to participate. You can use their standard comment or edit it to include your own stories or opinions. They've also got a handy FAQ, and a long list of supporting organizations including Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, Ultraviolet, Stop Online Violence Against Women, Access Now, EPIC, and Restore the Fourth.
If you've got a little more time, the web form on regulations.gov is also fairly straightforward. There's a text box, as well as the ability to add a file – if your comments are long or include links, tables and images a PDF is the way to go. If you want email confirmation that your submission has been received, make sure to check the opt in box. And remember that comments become part of the public record, so don't include any personal information you include in your
What to say in your comments?
Comments can be simple and short; even just saying something like "My personal data shouldn't be exploited, the FTC needs to take action" is useful. Even better is if you can tell a story about yourself or somebody you know.
Or, you can respond to one or more of the 95 (!) questions in the ANPR (also available in a PDF). For example, if you want to emphasize the importance of an opt-in approach (companies have to get consent before using, sharing, or selling your data) as opposed to the opt-out approach that most privacy legislation today takes, question #80 is a perfect opportunity:
Have opt-out choices proved effective in protecting against commercial surveillance? If so, how and in what contexts?
If you're concerned about student privacy, or the way that social media sites exploit kids' and teens' info, check out the questions starting with #13. For example:
What types of commercial surveillance practices involving children and teens’ data are most concerning?
If you're focused on algorithms, AI, and automated decision-making systems, the list of questions starting at #53 are pretty juicy. For example
53. How prevalent is algorithmic error? To what extent is algorithmic error inevitable? If it is inevitable, what are the benefits and costs of allowing companies to employ automated decision-making systems in critical areas, such as housing, credit, and employment? To what extent can companies mitigate algorithmic error in the absence of new trade regulation rules?
54. What are the best ways to measure algorithmic error? Is it more pronounced or happening with more frequency in some sectors than others?
65. How prevalent is algorithmic discrimination based on protected categories such as race, sex, and age? Is such discrimination more pronounced in some sectors than others? If so, which ones?
I'll be submitting an expanded version of my comments at the public forum on Automated Decision Systems and Discrimination, and many non-profits and corporations will no doubt go into much greater detail. But that's certainly not a requirement.
As FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya said at the public forum, shorter comments sharing a story or focusing on a single important pointn can often be the most impactful.
So even though there's a lot going on, if you care about privacy, please consider submitting a comment! The links again:
- ftccomments.com gives you send a pre-written comment that you can customize
- The web form on regulations.gov lets you provide a text comment and optionally upload a file if you want to go into more detail.
Find out more
- The FTC's Fact Sheet on Commercial Surveillance has a lot more information about the ANPR
- regulations.gov has the comments submitted so far – 144 as of October 16.
- Disinfo Defence League's What is the FTC and Why Does it Matter?, a presentation from Nora Benavidez and Carmen Scurato of Free Press, has background