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Big Data: Perspectives on the FTC Workshop and the Path Forward

Earlier this week, ITI submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in connection with the agency’s workshop last month that explored the impact of big data on consumers, including low income and underserved consumers. I attended the workshop, and based on the discussion at the event, there’s no doubt that there is widespread recognition that big data can yield tremendous benefits to consumers in a wide variety of areas, including health, education, transportation and energy. At the same time, panelists at the workshop raised concerns about the potential for discriminatory outcomes resulting from big data analysis and the increasing use of algorithms and automated processes in decision-making.        

In ITI’s comments, we urged the FTC—in connection with any future work on big data—to consider how large-scale data analysis can actually be utilized to identify and avoid discrimination, and how a lack of reliable data in underserved communities can make certain benefits unavailable to those consumers that may need them the most. In other words, big data can offer significant benefits that must be kept in mind in any consumer protection analysis of its impact on individuals.      

ITI also noted that the FTC is well positioned to identify actual discrimination harms caused by particular uses of big data. We also referred to the robust discussion at the FTC workshop about existing U.S. laws that address discriminatory practices, and encouraged a full analysis of the current legal landscape.    

Finally, we included a number of recommendations relating to big data that are designed to maximize the benefits of large-scale data analysis, while at the same time, taking into account potential risks. In our recommendations, ITI promotes:

  • A responsible use and risk-based approach to privacy. In such an approach organizations implement robust procedures and mechanisms to determine, based on the risks involved, which uses of data should be pursued and which should not.
  • Robust accountability. Robust accountability requires organizations to implement programs and processes that foster compliance with their commitments.
  • Data security. Data security is critical in a big data environment, and to that end, ITI supports a federal standard that would require data breach notification when the unauthorized acquisition of sensitive personal data could result in a significant risk of financial harm or identify theft.

ITI looks forward to continuing to engage with policymakers on issues surrounding big data and how benefits to consumers can be maximized in a privacy-protective manner.

ITI’s full set of comments to the FTC can be found here.   

Public Policy Tags: Data & Privacy