In a discussion with the The New York Times, Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) Chairman Jon Leibowitz, and chief of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, David Vladeck, indicated that Internet publishers and advertisers can expect the FTC to play a more active role in safeguarding consumer privacy. Chairman Leibowitz highlighted that, in the past, the FTC’s approach to privacy has focused on consumer notice and consent, and whether consumers were harmed. From the FTC’s perspective, however, the present model is problematic because companies have failed to provide consumers with meaningful notice that would allow them to make effective choices regarding their privacy. This “advise-and-consent” model is broken, as it “depended on the fiction that people were meaningfully giving consent.” In reality, few consumers take the time to inform themselves about the notices and choices outlined in privacy policies.

The lack of meaningful consent has raised the possibility that privacy is moving beyond the advise-and-consent model toward a post-disclosure era. It remains to be seen how the post-disclosure era will evolve and how the new paradigm will replace consumer notice and choice. The FTC is examining the issue, and aims to publish a report by July 2010. Although the final content of the report is yet to be determined, Chairman Leibowitz stated, “I have a sense, and it’s still amorphous, that we might head toward opt-in.”

For further information, view The New York Times blog post.