Self-Reg Advocate Maureen Ohlhausen Named Acting FTC Chair

Maureen Ohlhausen is taking the reins as acting chair of the Federal Trade Commission.

Ohlhausen has been vocal about the need for less regulation and fewer restrictions around data collection, which dovetails with the digital ad industry’s point of view on the matter.

Ohlhausen, who’s been been with the FTC since 1997 and has served as a commissioner since 2012, was appointed on Wednesday by President Donald Trump as a replacement for former Chair Edith Ramirez, a Democrat. Ramirez’s last day is Feb. 10.

It’s possible that Ohlhausen, a Republican whose term is up in September 2018, will be named permanent chair, although former FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright, also a Republican, is rumored to be in the running.

Her appointment came two days after Trump plucked Republican Ajit Pai from the ranks of the Federal Communications Commission to serve as chairman after Tom Wheeler’s departure following the inauguration.

A proponent of industry self-regulation, Ohlhausen has cited “regulatory humility” as an imperative for the commission. In her view, it’s the FTC’s job to educate itself on new technology. That includes the likely benefits and harms, but the FTC must also determine whether any potential harms are actually occurring.

The possible risks related to new technologies are “often theoretical,” Ohlhausen said last month at an International Association of Privacy Professionals event in Washington, DC.

“Often the discussion in Washington goes, ‘There’s a new technology, we need a new regulation.’ They cut out the middle,” she said, noting that it’s always better to try to use existing tools to address an issue before resorting to regulation.

Ohlhausen, like her counterpart Pai at the FCC, is also no fan of net neutrality.

While discussing the FCC’s privacy proposal in May during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, Ohlhausen sounded miffed about the FCC’s reclassification of broadband providers as common carriers, which she said “halted my agency’s decades-long bipartisan efforts to protect consumers of internet service.”

Considering Pai’s stated antipathy toward net neutrality and the FCC’s recently passed ISP privacy rules, as well as his admiration of the FTC’s privacy framework, the turf war between the FTC and the FCC over internet service providers could come to an end.

“Online consumers should and do have a uniform expectation of privacy [and] that expectation should be reflected in uniform regulation of all companies in the internet ecosystem,” Pai wrote in his dissenting statement during the vote on the FCC privacy laws. “That’s the model we had during a decade of FTC regulatory oversight; that’s the model that gave us an internet economy that’s the envy of the world.”

The Association of National Advertisers was as pleased as punch at Ohlhausen’s appointment, noting in a blog post that she “has consistently lauded and supported the efforts of the Digital Advertising Alliance industry self-regulatory program and other efforts of the ANA and the ad community to protect consumer privacy while enabling the online marketplace to continue to grow and thrive.”

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