Tim Muris, the Facebook Connection, and the FTC: The Need for Disclosure in the debate over Protecting Consumers Online

Former Bush FTC Chair Tim Muris is helping lead the charge against proposals that would ensure the FTC can be an effective consumer protection agency.  His critique of Obama and House-backed proposals in the financial reform bill that gives the FTC the ability to act on behalf of consumers is being cited by some in Congress.  Muris is trotting out the tired refrain that the FTC would not act responsibly if given the same rulemaking authority almost every federal agency has.  He suggests that the FTC would–horror!–actually protect children from junk food ads [1 out of every 3 kids in America is obese–and ads play a role] and also ensure our privacy is protected online.  When you think privacy, think about all the things you do using the Internet–involving your money, health, family/kids–and remember that digital marketers are eavesdropping on what you do–and selling that information to the highest bidder.

But two sources tell us that Mr. Muris is representing Facebook at the FTC–he is a lawyer at O’Melveny and Myers.  Facebook is now the subject of a FTC complaint by privacy groups, as well as the growing focus of data protection commissioners.  When Mr. Muris speaks about the FTC, especially his concerns that if given the ability to enact safeguard rules it would address privacy and online marketing, it is extremely relevant that he has at least one client allegedly involved.  During his tenure at the FTC, Mr. Muris relied primarily on industry self-regulation when it came to protecting privacy online.  That posture has resulted in consumers being victimized by a data collection “wild west,” which even industry now admits.  Facebook’s work with Mr. Muris places the social network service in the company of those working to defeat safeguards to protect America’s kids from ads that promote obesity. Given Facebook’s own growing role as a fast food advertiser, questions need to be raised about their involvement fighting FTC consumer protection proposals.  It is also another area where Mr. Muris needs to acknowledge his own commercial connections.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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