Consumer protection agency to look at disclosure issues

Consumer protection agency to look at disclosure issues
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A top consumer protection regulator will consider this fall the ways companies disclose information, including their privacy policies, to customers.

“Effective disclosures are critical in helping consumers make informed decisions in the marketplace,” said the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in a release announcing a September workshop on the issue.

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“The FTC has a long commitment to understanding and testing the effectiveness of consumer disclosures, and is especially interested in learning about the costs and benefits of disclosure testing methods in the digital age.”

The agency specifically mentioned the privacy policies companies use to tell customers how their data will be used.

“Disclosures are also challenging in the privacy arena, whether disclosing to consumers that their physical location or online interactions are being tracked, or explaining privacy practices when consumers sign up for a service,” the agency said. “Privacy policies are often long and difficult to comprehend and privacy-related icons may fail to communicate information meaningfully to consumers.

“The Commission has long encouraged the development and testing of shorter, clearer, easier-to-use privacy disclosures and consent mechanisms.”

The decision to hold the workshop comes as the Federal Communications Commission considers its own proposal for new rules governing when broadband providers need to get their customers' permission for certain uses of their data. The FTC previously had jurisdiction over those questions.

Other uses of disclosures cited by the agency included those attached to advertisements and those used in industry to avoid deceptive practices.

The agency doesn't have the ability to institute binding rules. But workshops like the one planned for September often result in guidance for different industries meant to keep them on the right side of the agency’s enforcement actions.