The Federal Trade Commission is already the de facto government watchdog for digital privacy. Now, the agency is hiring more people to investigate how technological advancements affect consumers.
"Today, I am pleased to announce the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s newest initiative to help ensure that consumers enjoy the benefits of technological progress without being placed at risk of deceptive and unfair practices – the formation of BCP’s Office of Technology Research and Investigation," Jessica Rich, chief of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a blog post.
The new office is a successor to the agency's Mobile Technology Unit, which has released reports on mobile shopping and apps aimed at children in recent years. But the newly formed Office of Technology Research and Investigation will not limit itself to mobile devices, instead tackling a broader portfolio of technological issues — "including privacy, data security, connected cars, smart homes, algorithmic transparency, emerging payment methods, big data, and the Internet of Things," according to a blog post advertising available jobs in the office.
As technology has become an increasingly large part of peoples' lives, the FTC's consumer protection powers left it in the position of policing big tech companies. But that job requires a set of highly technical skills, resulting in the creation of the chief technologist position at the FTC in 2010, among other agency efforts to expand its ability to investigate new challenges facing consumers.
Bulking up further may be a sign that the agency wants to strengthen its grip on technology issues at a time when there's a potential turf battle brewing over enforcing privacy rules for Internet service providers, and some are questioning the agency's decision not to pursue action against Google in an investigation over alleged anti-competitive practices that closed in 2012.