Federal Trade Commission

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has filed a lawsuit against device manufacturer D-link for allegedly deceiving the marketplace about the security of its products and, in turn, unfairly placing customer privacy at risk.

Overview

Taiwan-based manufacturers D-Link Corporation and D-Link Systems, Inc. (collectively, “D-Link”) design a variety of home network devices, such as routers, IP cameras, and baby monitors. Devices such as these are susceptible to hacking when they are connected to each other and to the internet (in what is often referred to as the “Internet of Things” or “IoT”), and weak security measures therefore pose a significant security concern. Judging from D-Link’s advertisements for its products, the company is certainly aware of these risks. D-Link boasted that its routers are safelocked from hackers thanks to “Advanced Network Security,” its baby monitors and cameras assure a “Secure Connection” to protect the livestream view of a sleeping child, and promises of an “easy” and “safe” network appear repeatedly during the set up process for a D-Link device with an online interface. As the FTC explains in its lawsuit claims like those made by D-Link are not only misleading but also dangerous.

Despite an apparent awareness of consumers’ cybersecurity concerns, the FTC alleges that D-Link neglected to build common security measures into the devices it sells. The allegations are startling: mobile app credentials were stored unsecured in plain text on consumer devices; a private company key code was accidentally made viewable online for six months; hard-coded login credentials in camera software left video feeds vulnerable to unauthorized viewers. And that’s just the beginning. More details are listed in the FTC’s complaint filed in a U.S. District Court in California on January 5, 2017.  These lapses and D-Link’s deceptive advertising prompted the FTC to charge the company with a violation of Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. §45.

As of January 10th, D-link has denied the allegations outlined in the complaint and has retained the Cause of Action Institute as counsel to defend against the action.

The growing IoT problem

In recent years, the FTC has tried to keep pace with mounting concerns over the IoT industry by filing a handful of complaints focused on consumer protection.  For example, it went after the company TRENDnet after the firm’s faulty software allowed hundreds of personal security cameras to be hacked. It also filed an action against computer parts manufacturer ASUS after its cloud services were compromised and the personal information of thousands of consumers was posted online. These isolated mistakes add up; when millions of unsecured and seemingly innocuous WiFi-enabled devices join the global network, they can serve as a massive launchpad for crippling cyber attacks like the one that overwhelmed internet traffic operator Dyn and shut down several major websites in October 2016. The efforts of the FTC are aimed at mitigating such attacks and encouraging technology developers to invest effort and resources in order to secure their IoT devices before they hit the marketplace.

Search for solutions

Both the FTC and the National institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have released reports offering guidelines and technical standards for building reliable security into the framework of new systems and devices.  As we wrote about recently, the White House has also left the incoming Trump administration an extensive report on cybersecurity recommendations. Achieving these standards will require a combination of regular agency enforcement and greater market demand for safe, secure devices. In the meantime, some digital vigilantes are working to stop cyber-attacks before they start. Netgear, for instance, has launched a “bug bounty program” offering cash rewards of $150-$15,000 for eager hackers to track and report security gaps in its devices, applications, and APIS.  Indeed, incentivizing solutions rather than quietly overlooking mistakes, and searching for loopholes in our laws, will make a substantial difference in safeguarding the IoT landscape.

Google’s recent changes to its privacy policy are coming under fire from a complaint filed late last year with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) that accuses the company of downplaying “transformational change” in its handling of user data.  #MLWashingtonCyberWatch will be keeping track of how the 2017 FTC addresses this complaint.

On June 28, 2016, Google notified its users of changes to its privacy policy that would “give you more control over the data Google collects and how it’s used, while allowing Google to show you more relevant ads.” However, a complaint submitted by advocacy groups Consumer Watchdog and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse on December 5th (the “Complaint”) alleges that not only are the changes themselves in violation of previous agreements between Google and the FTC as well as Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, but also that the announcement of these changes intentionally misled users who, in the words of the Complaint, “had no way to discern from the wording that Google was breaking from a nearly decade-old practice.” Continue Reading #MLWashingtonCyberWatch: 2017 FTC and Google Complaint

Even president-elect Donald Trump has been the victim of a data breach. Several times actually. The payment card system for his Trump Hotel Collection was infected by malware in May 2014 and 70,000 credit card numbers were compromised by the time the hack was discovered several months later.  The hotel chain paid a penalty to the State of New York for its handling of that incident.  The hotel chain also experienced at least two additional breaches during this past year affecting various properties. From a business perspective, Mr. Trump certainly understands the high costs of cybersecurity in dollars and distraction. But from the Oval Office, it is far less clear what the Trump Administration might do to secure our country’s digital infrastructure and prosecute cybercriminals. Equally uncertain are Mr. Trump’s views on privacy rights and how his presidency might affect federal protections for personal information and cross-border transfers of data. We do not have a crystal ball, but offer some thoughts. Continue Reading The Cyber President? What To Expect From the Trump Administration On Cybersecurity And Privacy

On Friday, the heads of the Federal Trade Commission overruled the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in In the Matter of LabMd., Inc. The FTC concluded that the ALJ had erred in dismissing the Commission’s case against a lab testing company LabMD and misapplied the unfairness standard.  The key determination by the FTC was that the mere disclosure of sensitive medical information is cognizable harm under Section 5(c) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a), irrespective of whether there is further economic or physical harm.   What does this mean for privacy enforcement?   Read on. Continue Reading FTC Plants A Flag With LabMD Ruling: What This Means for Enforcement

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced (press release) that Practice Fusion, the largest cloud-based electronic health company in the United States, has agreed to settle FTC charges over deceptive practices involving the public disclosure of healthcare provider review information collected from consumers that included sensitive personal and medical information. Below is our review of the circumstances of the basis of the FTC complaint, a summary of the terms of the settlement, and a few pointers on how to avoid a similar situation.    There are many lessons to be learned from this FTC complaint for all online providers, not only EHR providers.   Read on ….. Continue Reading Practice Fusion and FTC Settle Complaint Over Deceptive Statements About the Privacy of Consumer-Generated Online Content

 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has announced that a proposed rulemaking is being circulated among the Commissioners that would establish privacy and data security requirements applicable to providers of broadband Internet access service (BIAS).  The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) itself will not be released to the public until the end of March when it is scheduled for a vote, but Chairman Wheeler released a summary of his proposal on Thursday.

In adopting the Open Internet Order, which reclassified BIAS as a telecommunications service subject to Title II of the Communications Act, the FCC determined that the privacy provisions of Section 222 of the Communications Act that govern how call detail and call record information are used and protected by providers of telecommunications services also would apply to BIAS providers.  The Commission concluded, however, that its rules implementing the privacy provisions of that Title were ill-suited for broadband privacy, and opted to forbear from applying those rules to BIAS providers.  Instead, the Commission stated that it would establish a new privacy framework applicable to BIAS providers, and last week’s announcement represents the start of that process.  Print Continue Reading FCC Announces Broadband Privacy Proposal

The amended Judicial Redress Act has passed the House and is on its way to the president to be signed into law.  The Act, which we covered in an earlier blog post, gives citizens  of foreign countries the same rights as US citizens in connection with the use by the US government of their personal data, subject to a determination by the Attorney General that the country in question cooperates with the US in sharing law enforcement information, doesn’t impede the flow of personal data to the US for commercial purposes, and meets certain other requirements.  Essentially, the Judicial Redress Act helps assuage the EU’s concerns about government uses of personal data.  The Judicial Redress Act is vital for the EU’s acceptance of the Umbrella Agreement for sharing of data by law enforcement agencies.  It should be helpful for the proposed new “Privacy Shield,” which is currently under review by representatives of Europe’s national data protection agencies.

If you would like to learn more about the politics and law behind the current Safe Harbor 2.0 negotiations, download the podcast of Running Aground in the Surveillance Safe Harbor, a teleforum hosted by the Federalist Society.  The podcast features moderator Matthew R.A. Heiman, Vice President, Chief Compliance & Audit Officer, Tyco International; Stewart A. Baker, Partner, Steptoe & Johnson LLP and former Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security; and Susan Foster, a solicitor in England & Wales whose practice bridges the UK and US perspectives on data protection matters.  Podcast made available through kind permission of the Federalist Society.

One of the fascinating aspects of the privacy-related negotiations between the EU and the US over the past couple of years has been the EU’s efforts to decouple trade (e.g, TTIP) and security-related negotiations from the Safe Harbor 2.0 negotiations. The US Senate’s Judiciary Committee pushed back firmly on that yesterday when it adopted amendments to the Judicial Redress Act, which the EU requires to be passed before it will sign the Umbrella Agreement between the US and EU relating to the sharing of crime-related information between law enforcement authorities. The basic aim of the Judicial Redress Act is to give EU citizens the same rights as US citizens under the United States’ Privacy Act of 1974. The European Commission has said a number of times that passage of the Judicial Redress Act was a step in the right direction for Safe Harbor 2.0 (without saying it was enough to fully address the Commission’s concerns). Continue Reading Tying it all together: Safe Harbor and Security-Related Data Flows

There’s no doubt businesses in the EU and US would breathe a sigh of relief if a new Safe Harbor agreement is put in place between before European data protection authorities start prosecuting companies for potentially illegal personal data transfers to the US.  But if it doesn’t happen, the US is actually not any worse off than most of the rest of the world.  No other country has a special agreement with the EU concerning personal data transfers, and only eleven countries have been deemed to be “adequate” by the European Commission: Andorra, Argentina, Canada (commercial organizations only), Faeroe Islands, Guernsey, Israel, Isle of Man, Jersey, New Zealand, Switzerland and Uruguay.

Only one of the countries on the “adequate” list, Switzerland, is a “top ten” EU trade partner, according to the latest trade statistics published by the Commission (based on 2014 figures).  Only two of the countries are in the top twenty (Canada is in twelfth place).  Japan, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Korea, all “top ten” EU trade partners, are not on the “adequate” list.  Nor is China or Russia, both of which have significant trade with the EU (coming in second and third in the “total EU trade” rankings published by the Commission).  So if the US isn’t on the “adequate” list, it is no worse off than most other major EU trade partners. Continue Reading (So) What if there’s no Safe Harbor 2.0?