The FTC’s next chief technologist is on a quest for better passwords

5 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

CMU professor tapped to be FTC’s chief technologist.

Privacy issues will likely stay at the forefront of the FTC’s focus next year thanks to the commission’s appointment of Lorrie Cranor as its new chief technologist. Carnegie Mellon University professor Lorrie Faith Cranor has been tapped by the Federal Trade Commission to serve as the agency’s chief technologist, starting in January. In an email statement, Cranor said she looks forward “to participating in the great work the agency has done in the areas of consumer privacy and data security.” She will replace Ashkan Soltani, who has served as chief technologist since November 2014. She was previously a researcher at AT&T Labs Research and has also taught at the Stern School of Business at New York University. “Technology is playing an ever more important role in consumers’ lives, whether through mobile devices, personal fitness trackers, or the increasing array of Internet-connected devices we find in homes and elsewhere,” said Ms. Cranor’s recent efforts have focused on the Usable Privacy Policy Project, usable and secure passwords, privacy decision making, user-controllable security and privacy, and usable cyber trust indicators.

Soltani was a privacy practitioner who worked with The Washington Post to parse technical details of surveillance programs revealed by documents from Edward Snowden. Ramirez in a prepared statement. “We are delighted to welcome Lorrie to our team, where she will play a key role in helping guide the many areas of FTC work involving new technologies and platforms.” That’s different from the academics who previously held the job. “I was definitely an anomaly,” Soltani said, but added that his background was helpful because it gave “the agency insight into what the industry is doing.” Cranor will return the job to academic hands, a tradition started with the agency’s first chief technologist, Princeton professor Ed Felten, who now serves as a deputy U.S. chief technology officer at the White House. The flexibility of academics to take sabbaticals so they can work for the government is likely a factor in that trend — and one that has led to short terms when those academics return to their old posts.

She holds a doctorate in engineering and policy, masters’ degrees in computer science and technology and human affairs, and a bachelor’s degree in engineering and public policy. “Coming towards the end of Obama’s term and from academia, the industry will see her as a threat but likely not take her seriously because they’ll doubt she can get things done,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group. Used properly, however, Cranor’s EFF connection “could make her surprisingly effective,” Enderle said, particularly if her tenure is extended under the next president. “Those opposing her won’t realize the threat she represents until too late,” Enderle predicted. “As a result, she could actually make some surprising progress in terms of offsetting companies that are abusing their excessive power, which is an area that hasn’t seen significant progress for some time.” Cranor isn’t the only woman to have served in this FTC role: Harvard professor Latanya Arvette Sweeney was chief technologist for much of 2014. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a $43,600 fine to Portersville Sales & Testing Inc., a gas tubes and truck trailer manufacturing company in Butler County. Nevertheless, her appointment elicited enthusiasm from numerous organizations focused on women in computing. “Lorrie attended the first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in 1994 and returned in 2014 as an invited technical speaker,” noted Elizabeth Ames, a senior vice president for the Anita Borg Institute, which produces that annual conference. “She is an excellent choice and an outstanding example of the many capable and talented women technologists in the field today,” Ames added. “It is particularly rewarding to see women of her caliber getting the recognition and opportunities that they deserve.” Among the 15 citations, the company illegally used flammable materials and exposed employees to fall and crushing hazards during its painting operations.

But the FTC also lost some privacy enforcement ground to the Federal Communications Commission this year when a regulatory shift put the network activities of Internet Service Providers outside of its grasp. Consumers holding unused gift cards from bankrupt RadioShack can get a full refund under a settlement with Pennsylvania and 23 other states and Washington, D.C. Federal law does not bar consumers from filing lawsuits under California law alleging food products are falsely labeled “organic,” the state Supreme Court ruled.

Congress wanted only state and federal prosecutors to police organic food violations in order to create a national standard for organic foods, the lower court decided in 2013. Layoffs fell in November — but not enough to knock 2015 off course from being the worst year for job cuts in six years, according to consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Target Corp. will pay about $39 million to banks and credit unions to resolve losses from a 2013 holiday-season data breach, as retailers and financial institutions continue to grapple with the costs of major hacker attacks. Financial institutions sued the Minneapolis-based retailer to recover an estimated $200 million in losses stemming from the hack, in which as many as 40 million payment cards were exposed.

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