What’s the News?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently named Ashkan Soltani as its newest Chief Technologist. In this role, Soltani will serve as the agency’s top regulator on a variety of issues involving technology and consumer protection. Chief among them are data security and online privacy, which have become major FTC priorities in recent years. Soltani is regarded as an expert in the privacy field and has previously served as an advisor to the FTC, state attorneys general, and major corporations.

What Soltani’s Appointment Means

With a new Chief Technologist comes a new agenda. This week, Soltani outlined his top priorities at the FTC. First, Soltani will seek to enhance the FTC’s ability to regulate an increasingly technology-driven marketplace by bringing more technology experts into the FTC. Second, he intends to focus his efforts on the analysis and emphasize on how the use of Big Data may lead to exclusionary marketing tactics. Specifically, Soltani notes that he will focus on “algorithm transparency,” an effort to ensure that the algorithms with which consumers interact on a daily basis — through search engines, GPS devices, and social media platforms, for example — do not discriminate on the basis on content.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Soltani plans to take action on the issues of online privacy and data security. This has been an area of increased focus for the FTC in recent years, with high profile lawsuits filed against major corporations like Google, Facebook, and Twitter over their privacy policies. Expect this emphasis to continue under Soltani, especially with this year’s data breaches at stores like Home Depot having drawn increased public attention to the issue.

The agenda of Soltani should be of interest to all companies in the technology industry, as well as to those that collect data — whether it be anonymous or identifiable — from consumers. Soltani’s announcement proves that the FTC’s enforcement and focus on data will not slow in 2015, and it proves that their efforts may no longer be focused primarily on the collection and use of personally identifiable data.