Mozilla Comments on FTC’s “Commercial Surveillance and Data Security” Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

Like regulators around the world, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is exploring the possibility of new rules to protect consumer privacy online. We’re excited to see the FTC take this important step and ask key questions surrounding commercial surveillance and data security practices, from advertising and transparency to data collection and deceptive design practices.

Mozilla has a long track record on privacy. It’s an integral aspect of our Manifesto, where we state that individuals’ security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional. It’s evidenced in our products and in our collaboration with others in industry to forge solutions to create a better, more private online experience.

But we can’t do it alone. Without rules of the road, sufficient incentive won’t exist to shift the rest of the industry to more privacy preserving practices. To meet that need, we’ve called for comprehensive privacy legislation like the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA), greater ad transparency, and strong enforcement around the world. In our latest submission to the FTC, we detail the urgent need for US regulators and policymakers to take action to create a healthier internet.

At a high level, our comments focus on:

Privacy Practices Online: Everyone should have control over their personal data, understand how it’s obtained and used, and be able to access, modify, or delete it. To that end, Mozilla has long advocated for companies to adopt better privacy practices through our Lean Data Practices methodology. It’s also important that rules govern not just the collection of data, but the uses of that data in order to limit harmful effects – from the impact of addictive user interfaces on kids to the use of recommendation systems to discrimination in housing and jobs.

Privacy Preserving Advertising: The way in which advertising is conducted today is broken and causes more harm than good.  At the same time, we believe there’s nothing inherently wrong with digital advertising. It supports a large section of services provided on the web and it is here to stay, in some form. A combination of new research, technical solutions, increased public awareness, and effective regulatory enforcement can reform advertising for the future of the web.

Deceptive Design Practices: Consumers are being tricked into handing over their data with deceptive patterns, then that data is used to manipulate them. The use of deceptive design patterns results in consumer harms including limited or frustrated choice, lower quality, lower innovation, poor privacy, and unfair contracts. This is bread-and-butter deception – the online manifestation of what the FTC was established to address – and it is critical that the FTC has the authority to take action against such deception.

Automated Decision Making Systems (ADMS): For years, research and investigative reporting have uncovered instances of ADMS that cause or enable discrimination, surveillance, or other harms to individuals and communities. The risks stemming from ADMS are particularly grave where these systems affect, for example, people’s livelihoods, safety, and liberties. We need enforceable rules that hold developers and deployers of ADMS to a higher standard, built on the pillars of transparency, accountability, and redress.

Systemic Transparency and Data Sharing: We encourage the FTC to strengthen the mechanisms that empower policymakers and trusted experts to better understand what is happening on major internet platforms. To achieve this, we need greater access to platform data (subject to strong user privacy protections), greater research tooling, and greater protections for researchers.

Practices surrounding consumer data on the internet today, and the resulting societal harms, have put people and trust at risk. The future of privacy online requires industry to step up to protect and empower people online, and demands that lawmakers and regulators implement frameworks that create the ecosystem and incentive for a better internet ahead.

To read Mozilla’s full submission, click here.