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FTC Chairwoman Thinks Apple’s HealthKit Privacy Policies Are a Good Idea

Feds are looking at privacy and data protection issues raised by “Internet of Things” devices.

Federal Trade Commission

Apple’s decision to bar HealthKit app developers from sharing user data with brokers or advertisers was a welcome move, Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez said Monday at a conference about connected devices.

“Steps like this are, I believe, critical to fostering consumer trust,” Ramirez said during a speech at a Washington, D.C., conference on the Internet of Things. “Consumers will enthusiastically invite the Internet of Things into their homes, cars and workplaces only if they are confident that they remain in control over their data.”

FTC officials have been poking into whether the government needs to get more involved in how companies are collecting and sharing data from increasingly popular “Internet of Things” devices, such as fitness trackers, connected cars and home appliances, for the past year.

Some consumers and privacy advocates have raised concerns about how companies will use or share data collected by the devices. Ramirez and other government officials are also worried about how such personal data is stored and protected from hackers.

“In my view, the expansion of the Internet of Things presents three main challenges to consumer privacy. First, it facilitates what is expected to be the nearly ubiquitous collection of consumer data. Second, it opens that data to uses that are unexpected by consumers and that may have adverse consequences for them. And third, it puts the security of that data at greater risk,” Ramirez said Monday.

The FTC is expected to release a report about its findings into privacy and consumer issues with “Internet of Things” connected devices in the next few months. While the agency can’t regulate such devices, it can enforce existing privacy laws and urge Congress to adopt new legislation if necessary.

Federal law enforcement agencies aren’t nearly as excited about Apple’s embrace of new privacy protections for consumers. FBI director James Comey recently asked Apple and Google to change encryption technologies built into their new mobile operating systems and allow law enforcement officials access to subscriber data when necessary.

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