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FTC to host fall seminar series on consumer technology issues

Agency solicits public comment in advance of events.

The Federal Trade Commission will host a series of seminars this fall to examine three new and evolving technologies that are raising critical consumer protection issues. The FTC Fall Technology Series comprises three half-day events that will explore ransomware, drones, and smart TVs.

As part of its consumer protection mission, the FTC regularly holds events designed to bring together broad expertise to enhance public understanding of key issues. In 2014, the Commission held a series of seminars examining the privacy implications of mobile device tracking, consumer generated health data, and alternative scoring techniques. The FTC’s exploration of these topics on cross-device tracking, as well as the first-of-its-kind PrivacyCon, which provided a platform for academics to present novel research on privacy issues.

The series will gather input from academics, business and industry representatives, government experts, and consumer advocates for three-hour discussion sessions, which will take place in Washington D.C. and will be open to the public. The FTC invites comment from the public on the events.

Program schedule

FTC Fall Technology Series:  Ransomware – 9 a.m. to noon, September 7, 2016

Constitution Center, 400 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20024

With alarming frequency frequency, ransomware hackers are sneaking into consumer and business computers, encrypting files containing photos, documents, and other important data, and then demanding a ransom in exchange for the key needed to decrypt the files. Consumers, business and government agencies are falling prey to these schemes, including hospitals whose servers may contain sensitive patient data. Other variants of ransomware are now targeting mobile devices.The seminar will address questions such as:

  • How do ransomware extortionists gain access to consumer and business computers?
  • What role can consumer and business education play in preventing ransomware infections?
  • Are there steps consumers and businesses should be taking to reduce the risk of ransomware or to decrease its impact?
  • Are there technological measures that computer operating system and web browser designers can take to prevent ransomware?
  • Are there browser plug-ins or other tools that consumers and businesses can employ that will warn if their data is about to be encrypted?
  • What can be learned from criminal law enforcement’s efforts to combat ransomware?
  • If you fall prey to ransomware, should you pay the ransom?
  • If you pay the ransom, how likely are you to receive the decryption key and be able to view your files?
  • What happens if you don’t pay the ransom? Are your files lost forever?

FTC Fall Technology Series:  Drones – 9 a.m. to noon, October 13, 2016

Constitution Center, 400 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20024

As Americans are getting increasingly familiar with drones, they do pose a significant security risk. These devices have become one of consumers’ most popular technology purchases; some estimate that nearly 1,000,000 drones will be purchased this year (2016). Many consumer drones feature HD cameras, GPS, and the ability to fly autonomously. Commercially available drones are even more sophisticated, and increasingly being used for a variety of activities, including monitoring and inspection, news reporting, search and rescue of missing persons and deliveries. While drones may provide significant economic benefits, the potential for information collection raises the prospect of consumer harms including invasion of privacy, trespassing, and harassment. The seminar will explore the following questions related to commercial uses of drones:

  • What are the uses and benefits of drones for consumers today? Where is drone technology headed?
  • What are the unique privacy and security concerns associated with drone technologies and the data collected from them?
  • How are these concerns currently being addressed by businesses, self-regulatory efforts, and foreign regulators?
  • Is there a need for further guidance?

FTC Fall Technology Series:  Smart TV – 9 a.m. to noon, December 7, 2016

Constitution Center, 400 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20024

Consumers enjoy recommendations based on their television viewing habits, but who else knows what you’re watching except those close to you? The golden age oof television has arrived, along with television tracking. In 2016, virtually all television delivery stems – smart TVs, streaming devices, game consoles, apps, and even old-fashioned set-top boxes – track consumers’ viewing habits, and sometimes in new and unexpected ways. Television and streaming device manufacturers, software developers, and the advertising industry are collaborating to learn more about what you are watching. These collaborations allow advertisers to precisely target consumers and better understand what ads are working. Consumers may even find advertisements based on their television viewing habits appearing on their phones and desktop browsers. The Smart TV workshop will explore the following questions:

  • What are the roles of hardware manufacturers and software developers in creating tracking technologies?
  • What do consumers understand about how their entertainment preferences are being tracked, disclosed, and used for various purposes?
  • How are entertainment preferences being linked to individuals or to individuals’ device graphs?
  • How is the advertising industry using this information?
  • What are some best practices for addressing consumer privacy on entertainment systems?