The new head of the Federal Trade Commission took a tough stance on consumer privacy in a speech Tuesday, warning tech companies to be careful about what data they collect on their users and how they use and protect that data.
Edith Ramirez, who was named chairwoman of the FTC in March, used her speech at the Technology Policy Institute Aspen Forum to talk about what big data needs to do to safeguard consumer privacy -- and what the agency has been doing to keep those companies in check. Likening the FTC to a "lifeguard," Ramirez pointed to actions it had taken against Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB), and MySpace for failing to keep user data confidential, as well as actions taken against the likes of Twitter and Wyndham Resorts (WYN) for failing to secure user data.
She also spoke about the need to safeguard consumer choice in how data is collected.
"Rarely, if ever, are consumers given a say about the aggregation of their personal data or secondary uses that are not even contemplated when their data is first collected," she said. Focusing on data collection is crucial, she argued, because it's difficult to enforce rules on how that data is ultimately collected.
Finally, she emphasized that companies should be transparent about their data collection practices.
"For too long, the way personal information is collected and used has been at best an enigma 'enshrouded in considerable smog,'" she said. "Simplified choice ensures that consumers understand who is collecting their data and what it is being used for, and that they are given a say in whether that data is collected and how it is used."
These are all noble sentiments, and it's nice to see the FTC head is taking privacy issues seriously. But at the same time, it's hard to escape the irony of a government official lecturing companies about the need to respect the privacy of American citizens. In the last couple of months, the American public has learned extensive details about the National Security Administration's domestic spying program, which involves accessing user data from some of the very tech companies that Ramirez mentioned in her speech. And while she talks about ensuring transparency in data collection, the government that employs her has spent the last two months trying to capture the man who leaked details on its spying program.
Of course, the U.S. government is not a monolith, the FTC is not the NSA, and it's not Ramirez who's intercepting private communications, so it's not exactly fair to call her speech hypocritical. But you have to wonder: Does the U.S. government really have the moral authority to position itself as a "lifeguard" for consumer privacy at the same time as it's spying on Americans?
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
The 20 Most Valuable Brands In The World
FTC Tells Tech Companies to Respect Americans' Privacy
Brand Value: $27.8 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 34%
What Happened: MasterCard's rank flew up nine spots this year to the 20th most valuable brand in the world, and Millward Brown VP Oscar Yuan attributes that ascent to "the growth of mobile technology." As consumers up their online shopping habits, brands like Mastercard and Visa reap the rewards for offering noncash payment methods.
Brand Value: $34.36 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 34%
What Happened: "They're really into the big data," Yuan explained of the German tech brand, "So [the increase in value] is reflective of a consistent storyline: The growth of mobile shopping." SAP has the big data solutions enterprise companies need.
Brand Value: $36.2 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 5%
What Happened: Walmart, however, has mastered the art of brick and mortar shopping. "You can't buy milk online," Yuan said. The retail giant has a large and loyal consumer base that is constantly growing - even internationally.
Brand Value: $39.7
Percent Change v. 2012: -8%
What Happened: Vodafone's 8% drop in value can be attributed to O2 and Orange's recent success. But at almost $40 billion, it is still one of the largest mobile carriers in the UK.
Brand Value: $41.1 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: -1%
What Happened: While Americans might have never heard of the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, Yuan explains that in its home country, "the logo is ubiquitous." ICBC is the first of two Chinese brands in the top 20, a number which is largely due to the countries growing middle class.
Brand Value: $42.7 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 15%
What Happened: "I think a lot of the growth is really tied to several consumer trends - and I'm talking about the need for consumers to shop online mobile devices," Yuan told BI. Consumers need to get the products they bought on the internet somehow, and that's where UPS comes in.
Brand Value: $45.7 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 34%
What Happened: It's almost impossible for brick and mortar shops to compete with Amazon's wide selection, low prices, and mastery of the mobile marketplace - easily allowing consumers to buy anything from anywhere on their phone or tablet. Recent acquisitions of Audible.com and Goodreads also show the company's determination to dominate all aspects of mobile book consumption and sharing.
"There's no stopping amazon as they go international," Yuan said."
Brand Value: $47.7 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 20%
What Happened: After acquiring Wachovia in 2008, Wells Fargo successfully expanded from a California-based bank to a national name. Coming from California also helped Well's Fargo's image with consumers considering that it was one of the few banks to remain unscathed during the financial crisis. "It also started a major rebranding strategy expansion," Yuan said.
Brand Value: $53 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 8%
What Happened: Verizon got a boost after Apple opened its services to carriers other than just AT&T. While Verizon and AT&T's rivalry heats up, Yuan predicts that the competition will up both brands' game. "As data devices continues to proliferate, we will continue to see Verizon do well," he said.
Brand Value: $55.3 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 21%
What Happened: "GE ... continued to be one of the most well respected consumer and industrial brands in the world," Yuan said. And the public is starting to see that it makes more than just light bulbs. General Electric has dedicated major marketing dollars to making sure that consumers know it produces everything from airplane engines to wind turbines to medical equipment. Hammering in its dedication to innovation, a recent ad campaign even enlisted the help of famous robots.
"In terms of B2B, GE is one of the most well respected brands," Yuan continued, citing that it was often used in business school case studies.
Brand Value: $55.4 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 18%
What Happened: China Mobile is the largest mobile carrier and brand in China, so it's a no-brainer that it's one of the most valuable brands in the world. "There are more mobile phone subscribers in China than in the U.S.," Yuan said.
Brand Value: $56 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 46%
What Happened: A key way to bolster global presence is to sponsor the Olympics. But that's not the only thing that upped Visa's brand value so drastically. As one of the most trusted names in non-cash payments, Visa has gained clout in the world of online shopping and mobile payments.
Brand Value: $69.4 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: -6%
What Happened: Marlboro is a top 10 regular, which goes to show that even though smoking is restricted in the U.S. doesn't mean that the rest of the world has laid off the habit. "Marlboro has consistently invested in the brand ever since its inception," Yuan said. "The rugged cowboy is very strong and consistent globally."
To put it another way, "about 25% of world's population are smokers, and they use it 5 to 10 times a day. I don't drink 10 bottles of water a day." That's getting your brand out there.
Brand Value: $69.8 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: -9%
What Happened: As a $70 billion brand, Microsoft is in great shape even in spite of a 9% value decrease. Microsoft is a powerhouse and has a reputation as one of the strongest tech brands in the business. But, Yuan notes, "with consumers, there's confusion as to where Microsoft fits." The company's fortune is largely tied with the PC business, but it has emerged on the mobile scene with the Surface and other devices. The company went through a major rebranding in the summer of 2012 to stay relevant.
Brand Value: $75.5 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 10%
What Happened: AT&T is another company to gain value due to the increasing U.S. consumption of mobile products. For a long time, the service provider had an exclusive deal with the iPhone, so it became synonymous with the new technology. What's really interesting, however, is that even when Apple opened the iPhone up to Samsung and T-Mobile, AT&T's value didn't go down.
Brand Value: $78.4
Percent Change v. 2012: 6%
What Happened: "What's consistently impressive about Coca-Cola is its ability to innovate," Yuan said. "People think that soda consumption is declining, but Coke is turning the business on its head." For example, this year Coca-Cola released a series of freestyle machines which allows consumers and retailers to mix their own flavors of the soda syrup to make their own individual Coca-Cola. The company is constantly innovating and staying fresh.
Brand Value: $90.3 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: -5%
What Happened: Yuan noted that one of McDonald's gifts was the ability to listen to consumers' sentiments and adapt, particularly to growing health concerns. "It has come out with a much healthier menu with apple slices, oatmeal, and a Chicken McWrap which has done well," he said.
McDonald's is also gaining a stronghold in the coffee space, which should be an interesting new endeavor to follow.
Brand Value: $112.5 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: -3%
What Happened: At $112.5 billion, IBM's three percent value decrease is not a substantial figure. IBM is known as a company that consistently delivers year after year, Yuan told BI. And it is particularly hailed in the B2B sphere.
Yuan also noted that its Ogilvy-made "Smarter Planet" campaign, in which the company explained its plans to help clients innovate and make the world a better place, inspired consumers to believe in the brand.
Brand Value: $113.7 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 5%
What Happened: Google has effectively taught consumers that it is more than just a search-based company. With maps, mail, shopping, and more, Google is integrated into everyone's lives. The company also made recent headlines about its new contribution to the hardware world in the form of Google Glass. "It will be interesting to see how Google Glass will contribute to the brand value, but now it's too soon to tell," Yuan said.
Brand Value: $185 billion
Percent Change v. 2012: 1%
What Happened: In spite of harsh Wall Street analysis and media speculation regarding Tim Cook's leadership capabilities, Apple continues to be a strong brand in the eyes of consumers - a major value measurement for Millward Brown. "Despite what the press says and stock market says," Yuan noted, "Apple in the eyes of the consumers is the gold standard."
In the last eight years, Apple's value has increased 1,045% - only topped by Subway's meteoric 5,145% rise. (Although Subway still hasn't broken the top 20.)
Those companies are constantly innovating to stay on the top.[Those companies are constantly innovating to stay on the top.]The gay pride Oreo, from Kraft's Facebook page.