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Consumer Reports praises House for advancing bill to provide new funds, authority for FTC privacy protections; urges Senate to take action

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the United States House of Representatives advanced the Build Back Better Act, which includes $500 million over ten years to fund an office in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), focused on policing privacy abuses and other data violations. The measure also provides the FTC first-time civil penalty authority, giving the Commission much more power to incentivize companies to comply with the law. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Justin Brookman, director of technology policy at Consumer Reports, said, “We’re thrilled that the House has approved a bill to empower the FTC to rein in giant technology companies. For too long, the FTC lacked the resources to do the massive job with which it is tasked. This new investment and authority will be crucial in helping the Commission protect consumers and hold companies accountable in the digital world. Now, we urge the Senate to get the Build Back Better Act across the finish line.”

CR has long advocated for more funding and authority for the FTC, including in recent testimony to Congress. The FTC is vastly underfunded and understaffed, particularly in comparison to the large, well-funded entities that it is tasked with regulating. Currently, the FTC only has 1,100 full-time employees (FTEs) to pursue both its competition and consumer protection missions,  while in 2020, Facebook alone had total revenues of nearly $86 billion and nearly 60,000 employees. Consumer Reports recently led dozens of consumer and civil rights advocates in calling on Congress to adequately fund the FTC.

Further, when companies are caught deceiving or defrauding consumers, the FTC usually does not have the ability to obtain penalties from a court or in settling a case; instead, violators typically just sign an order promising not to do it again. Though the Commission can seek civil penalties in some cases, that authority is not broad enough to be an effective deterrent in the marketplace — it is limited to violations of an FTC rule, a consent decree, or a specific grant of civil penalty authority from Congress. CR, along with a coalition of groups, urged Congress to support the provision, currently in the Build Back Better Act, that gives the FTC civil penalty authority for first-time violations.

Maureen Mahoney, senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports, said, “We applaud the House of Representatives for taking action to empower the FTC to hold bad actors accountable. We call on the Senate to approve the measure, so that the FTC can redouble its efforts to protect consumer privacy, advance civil rights, and address inappropriate uses of data.”

New funding will be crucial in enabling the FTC to meet its responsibilities to protect consumer privacy, including, as directed by the Executive Office, a rulemaking to address “unfair data collection and surveillance practices that may damage competition, consumer autonomy, and consumer privacy.” CR recently joined 44 groups in calling on the FTC to begin such a rulemaking.

Contact: Cyrus Rassool, cyrus.rassool@consumer.org