FTC chairman resigns, but online privacy threats persist

Word broke last week that the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Jon Leibowitz, will step down from his post in mid-February.

During his four-year run, Leibowitz brought cases against two of the internet’s biggest companies – Google and Facebook – for violating their own privacy policies. He also spent time working on the expansion of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

An article in The New York Times cites several political figures with varying stances on his performance as the FTC’s chief. Most of the attention, however, has been focused on his actions to curb unfair competition practices in the United States.

While this is obviously the main focus of the FTC, it is frightening that online privacy is treated as the red-headed stepchild of the head of the FTC’s duties. As companies like Google, Facebook and Apple continue to grow in gargantuan leaps and bounds, their business practices are inextricably interwoven with online privacy rights.

This issue should be a top priority of far more people in power than it actually is. And while there are sure to be countless politicians willing to line up and say they care deeply about the topic, far fewer would be able to stand up and say they have done something significant to improve internet privacy.

Like the World Wide Web itself, everything is connected. Breakdowns in online privacy protections weaken our ability to prevent identity theft. When one person is compromised, the company he or she works for is then exposed, as are friends, family and their employers.

Since, unfortunately, we cannot rest on our laurels and wait for politicians to take proper steps, especially when the priorities in the halls of politics are focused on beating the other side, we must take a proactive stance. Take responsibility for training yourself and your company on how to keep vital sensitive information from leaking out through digital devices and online relationships.

John Sileo is an online privacy expert and keynote speaker on social media privacy, identity theft and fraud. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.