The Federal Trade Commission has an important mission—protecting consumers and competition. On today's episode, FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter discusses the ways the FTC carries out its mandate and works on behalf of consumers to protect our privacy and our data. Listeners will also hear her personal story about how as a new mom she employed a BYOB—bring your own baby—policy when she first joined the FTC and why she believes more women and mothers need to be at the table where decisions are being made.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Welcome Broadband Conversations. I'm Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, and this is the podcast where I get to talk to leading women, from across the technology innovation and media industries.
You get to hear what they're working on, what's on their minds, and what they think is the next big thing. And I'm really happy today, because, sitting with me, in our FCC studio, is a dear friend and a truly amazing woman, I'm joined by Rebecca Slaughter and she's a Commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission.
Now, I'm going to let her tell you her story and how she got to FTC, but before she does, I want to give her a huge shout out, right at the beginning, because just nine days after giving birth, nine days, she testified, before the Senate, as part of her nomination to the FTC.
And when she started her job, she was the first FTC Commissioner to bring her baby to the office and, for doing so, she was profiled by the New York Times.
And she said, and I'm quoting here, I don't feel super human, I feel like a mom, who has a career, about which, she cares very much and a family, about which, she cares very much and I'm trying to navigate the two.
And so for the record, not all superheroes wear capes, sometimes, they can carry a child in one hand and a copy of the Federal Record in the other.
And, I know, we're going to talk about your experience bringing your daughter to work and your experience, at the FTC, more in the podcast. But, first, thank you so much for being here.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Thank you, so much, for having me. This is a real treat.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right, I want to start with a little backstory, and I want to learn, how you got to where you are, today.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Sure. So, I guess, the best place to start is that, when I graduated from law school, or when I went to law school, rather, I was really interested in policy.
I was thinking a lot about, how can we use the law, to improve the world? And so, the summer after my first year of law school, I went to work for the United States Senate Judiciary Committee.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Heard of it, definitely.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes. People hear of it more and more, these days. And, it was an absolutely amazing experience. And the summer that I was there, was actually the summer that Justice O'Connor retired from the Supreme Court.
And it was the first Supreme Court retirement in, I think, 11 years, at that point, and so that was the thing that stopped all the news and stopped all the world and it was a really big deal.
And then, just a couple months later, the Chief Justice died and it became clear that, not only were we going to have one confirmation hearing, we were going to have two.
And so I ended up taking some time off of law school and stay and work in my job on the Senate Judiciary Committee for Senator Schumer, and I, it was a spectacular experience. I loved the work.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes, I mean, history.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Like, in the making. You had a front row seat.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, I felt like I had a seat
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes. And I, I really felt incredibly privileged to be a part of it. I had amazing colleagues and an amazing boss and I loved it. But, I thought, I need to graduate law school.
I was, like, $60,000 in the hole and no degree in sight, so I did that work for a year and then I ended up going back to law school and graduating.
And I thought I wanted to spend some time practicing law. I actually was I was not one of those people, even though I was interested in policy, I was not one of those people, who went to law school, as a vehicle to do policy work, I was actually, also, interested in the practice of law and I wanted to learn more about it.
So I started at a law firm, not long after I graduated, after I took the bar. And my thought had been that I would stay there for a few years and then, maybe clerk, or maybe go back into government.
But, after I had been there for, like, nine months, Senator Schumer's Office called me back and said that there was a counsel opening and was I interested in it, well that sounds like fun, more fun than my previous experience.
So, I went back to the Senate, as a Counsel for Senator Schumer, and I thought, at the time, I'd do that job, you know, for a couple of years, and then, maybe, go back into the private sector.
And then, a couple of years turns into almost ten years, and I stayed because I loved the work and I loved what I was doing. And I thought, I'll just keep doing this and, unless and until, something that I'm more interested and more excited about comes along, or another opportunity comes along.
And so over that time that I worked there, I became Senator Schumer's Chief Counsel, he became the Minority Leader, we moved into leadership.
So I kept getting great opportunities in the office and then, in 2018, the opportunity to become an FTC Commissioner came up, and that really felt like something I couldn't turn down.
It had been hard to imagine a job that would be more rewarding and more exciting than the one I had been in, but this certainly fit that bill. So I was very lucky and very privileged to get to move here, although, the timing, as you mentioned.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes.
MS. SLAUGHTER: The beginning was a little challenging, because I was pregnant with my third child, at that point.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Okay. Well that's a perfect segue. So table set, a little, and describe to the uninitiated, what the Federal Trade Commission does, how it works, and what your day to day looks like.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Sure. So the Federal Trade Commission is the independent Agency that, it deals with competition and consumer protection, those are our main missions.
And what that means, in practice, is well, what that means, from a legal perspective, is that we enforce, among other laws, the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive acts in practices and unfair methods of competition. And
MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's kind of a broad mandate.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, it is a very broad mandate that reaches all across the economy, unlike your Commission, which is a little bit more sector specific, it is, it is very, very wide in its mandate, although, with less detailed rules, in each particular area.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And as technology grows, as a portion of our economy and our civic life, the FTC has increasingly focused on that.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes that's right. You know, the FTC was established in 1914, when the Innovative Technology had to do with, you know, well, I'm going to get my history a little bit wrong, but
MS. ROSENWORCEL: We'll say no
MS. SLAUGHTER: we're in the area of
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes.
MS. SLAUGHTER: We're, we're well before the area, the era of the Internet
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes, no
MS. SLAUGHTER: more like
MS. ROSENWORCEL: social media back then.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, exactly.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right.
MS. SLAUGHTER: And so unfair and deceptive acts in practices, basically, covers companies, or individuals, but mostly companies lying to and taking advantage of consumers.
Unfair methods of competition is another way to talk about anti trust laws, which is companies that, either, work together, or work individually, to use their market power in ways that are unfair to consumers, or to workers, or to the economy, generally.
So it's a pretty broad mandate that we enforce. And, most of the work that we do is actually enforcement.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: So you mention it's a broad mandate, so let me shrink it down a little bit, and say
MS. SLAUGHTER: Sure.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: what does it look like, on a day to day basis?
MS. SLAUGHTER: So on a day to day basis, most of what I am doing is reading, evaluating, discussing, asking questions about particular enforcement actions. And I'll give you some examples of those enforcement actions.
You know, some of them have been in the news, a fair amount. So the FTC brought cases against Facebook, for violating some consumer privacy promises that it had made.
We recently brought a case against YouTube, having to do with the violation of children's Online Privacy Protection Act. But we also do lots of cases that are not in that space in the consumer protection world.
So a couple of weeks ago, we announced an enforcement action against a large multi level marking firm. Some people call this pyramid schemes. They are, sort of, business opportunity scams that take advantage of consumers.
We enforce against student loan scams, debt relief scams, or scams that go after Veterans, or old people, like a lot of just bread and butter fraud. We bring cases against companies like that.
And then, on the competition side, the work is, sort of divided into merger review, so when companies merge and they're large, they have to file paperwork with the Federal Government that gives us information about the contours of that plan to merge and we have to evaluate whether that merger is likely to substantially lessen competition.
And then, we also investigate conducts, which is companies, either working alone or together, in ways that violate our competition laws.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right, so speaking of your day to day, like I mentioned, right at the top, your days, you know, they have these briefings and meetings, but you also brought your infant daughter with you, to work, and she was really young and you had this policy you called Bring Your Own Baby.
I'm intrigued to learn some more about that and, also, how you see that, in light of a goal, I think we both share, which is advocating for women in our agencies and in our technology sphere and parts of the economy.
And, tell me a little bit more about your experience and why you think it is important for women and mothers to be at the table and be in leadership positions?
MS. SLAUGHTER: Thanks. It's a really good question. And let me start by saying, when I had the opportunity to start this job and had a new baby at the same time, I didn't have an easy and obvious option of how to handle it.
I think we're all familiar, and women in particular, are familiar with the deficits in the U.S. law, when it comes to maternity and paternity leave.
And, which isn't to say that we don't have any paid maternity and paternity leave and that, you know, most federal employees get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave that they can take.
But, as a Commissioner, which, for the record, I will just say, 12 weeks is inadequate, unpaid is inadequate. All of these things are inadequate.
But, as a Commissioner, as you know, we have a slightly different setup, because in the privilege of the positions that we hold, we also don't get structured leave time, we're expected to be on and accountable 24 hours, a day,
MS. ROSENWORCEL: I know.
MS. SLAUGHTER: seven days, a week.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: You are always on the clock.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, exactly. And so when I was lucky enough and, really, lucky enough to get this opportunity, and to be confirmed, relatively quickly, I had a choice to make, which was, could I, should I be sworn in, even though, I had this new baby, who ended up being one month old, on the day I was sworn in, it was her one month birthday.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Wow.
MS. SLAUGHTER: And start my job, or should I not, but miss the startup of a new Commission? Because, three of my other fellow Commissioners were all being sworn in at the same time.
Should I get sworn in and just take maternity leave, which I wasn't sure would be the best way to fulfill my oath of office and my duty, and I wasn't sure what the right option would be.
But, this was my third child, so I was a little bit more practiced. I knew what I was doing, a little bit more with a baby.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: A little more confident about those things, right?
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, exactly. And, she happened to be a pretty easy baby, which is
MS. ROSENWORCEL: That is always a bonus.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, which is not a given. And so I decided, the plan that I made, in advance, was I was going to try, to see what I could do, about starting up my job, bringing the baby with me and taking the time I needed.
I will say, up front, and I didn't build a nursery next to my office and have a nanny taking care of the baby with me, I don't have the resources to do that, that wasn't what it was.
This was just the best worst option in a set of options. And, I was lucky, unlike many, many working parents to be able to make my own choice, about what worked for me, and that was really the privilege I had in this position.
No one was in charge of me, except for me. No one could say yes, or no. I didn't have to get anybody's permission and that is a privilege that most women do not have in this country.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's right.
MS. SLAUGHTER: So that's what I felt really lucky about that I could do to try to craft a path that worked the best, for me. So my plan was, to come into the office two, or three, days a week, with the baby, and then to work from home the other two, or three days a week.
I spent the first six months, or five, months that I was there, really, doing only internal facing meetings, which, to be fair, I think I would've done, anyway.
Because, I knew that I came into this job with a whole lot of policy experience, in the areas of anti trust and consumer protection, but no enforcement experience.
And I had a lot of learning to do, about how the Agency worked and how the staff, the career staff, who had been doing their jobs, in many cases, for decades, thought about the work and thought about the challenges and the opportunities.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's so important. It's always good to do homework in any institution you join. And
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: I think there's probably, a lot of benefit to that, even if it was something you felt compelled to do, because of your situation.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Right, exactly. I think I, probably, would've done it, anyway, but it certainly worked out well.
I spent those first few months just doing meet and greets with all of the staff and all of the divisions, the paralegals, the attorneys, everybody, to really learn what they knew, as much as I could, and I happened to do that with a tiny little baby in tow.
So I'd like, put her in the wrap and, you know, maybe get up and bounced during meetings. And everybody was great. Everybody was supportive and inclusive and understanding.
The most awkward moment I had was the first time she woke up and, clearly, needed to be fed, when I was in the middle of a meeting, in my office, but with, I don't know, like maybe five or six men, talking about a competition issue, and I had to, sort of, do this mental juggle of, okay, well, I need to nurse the baby.
I'm sitting here with a group of men, in a professional setting, what, what am I going to do about this? And I just decided, I think I need to feed my baby, because that's what I need to do about this.
So I just put, I didn't say anything, I just put on a nursing cover and, you know, latched her on and just kept going with the meeting.
And, to the credit of everybody in the room, nobody missed a beat, nobody blinked, we just continued to have the meeting. I got a lot of excellent eye contact, which is what I find happens.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: I'm feeling like this must have been FTC first.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, I'm guessing that that probably hadn't happened before, but everyone handled it really well and everybody was really understanding.
So again, I want to make clear, I couldn't have done this isn't right for every woman, it wouldn't even have been right for me, in every job, or with every baby that I have had, but it was the best way to manage this particular circumstance.
And I thought sending the message to women that sometimes you have to find creative solutions to balancing work and family and I want to make space for people to be able to do that in this sphere that I occupy and that starts as setting an example of doing that, was really important.
And then, I will add, it is equally important to me, when other people in the Agency make clear that they have family obligations, or personal obligations that we make space for them to do that too.
And I do think it needs to not just be about children. I mean, children is how I experience the most acute challenges, but nobody everybody is a whole person.
They are their professional selves and their personal selves and if we make them to pretend they have no professional side, in their personal environment, I don't think they'll work, as well. I don't think they'll be as happy. I don't think that's good for the Agency.
So whether it's your kids, or your pets, or your opera hobby, or whatever it is, I think it's really important for employers to make space for people to be whole people and do their jobs well.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: You know what I love most is that, you didn't shy away from being very public about the fact that you were doing this.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And I feel like you sent an image to a lot of people that was really powerful, which was that, I can do both of these things, I can do them, at the same time, watch me.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, and also, I'm not perfect, right, like
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Sure.
MS. SLAUGHTER: I know that
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Sure.
MS. SLAUGHTER: this is not, like, it was really important to me, too, to not suggest to women that, you have to be able to bring your baby to the office, or you have to be able to juggle all these things, at the same time, because I know how hard that can be.
And, I didn't get enough sleep and I didn't feel like I was my very best self, but I was doing the best that I could, at all of the things that I cared about and wanted to be doing.
So I do think it's a balanced message that I'm going to make my choices publicly. I have the privilege of being in a position, where the only person, who's in charge of those choices is me.
And, I will be accountable for them and answer questions about them and be honest about the ups and the downs.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right, so I'm going to switch gears
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: from life choices, families, women in the office, to talking about privacy. Because a lot of time, when we read about the FTC these days, it's about technology and privacy.
And it's such a big issue, for everyone, including families and consumers, across the board. So what are the biggest issues you see, when it comes to data and privacy, and how does the FTC wrestle with that, especially with its century old statute?
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, these are great questions. So I'll share a few of my observations from having done work on privacy cases and thinking about this issue that's in the news, everyday.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Everyday.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Literally, everyday. So when we think about privacy, traditionally, what we think about is people having information, about you that you didn't want them to have, or didn't intend to share with them or somehow violates your sense of personal autonomy.
And that is a pervasive problem. That happens all the time. I think, for the most part, we have we, as consumers, have very little idea what information is collected about us, by whom, how it is shared, how it is used.
The point that I think we need to start thinking about more, when we're talking about these issues, though, when we say privacy, I don't think that captures the whole scope of the issues that are material to consumers.
Because you can't really separate the harms that flow from data being collected about somebody that they don't want collected, to the harms that flow from that data then being used to maybe target information to somebody, or make decisions for somebody.
So I will give you an example, we hear a lot about manipulative ads and manipulative ad targeting. That is facilitated by the collection of personal data that allows very personalized advertising to be targeted towards people.
And sometimes that's great, because I can get an advertisement for like a color block swimsuit, or washable shoes that I think are terrific.
But, sometimes that's really bad, because you end up with either politically problematic, or sort of propaganda driven messages. Or we've seen a lot of literature, recently, about white supremacist recruitment, targeting teenage boys.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: So how much of this is contextual advertising versus behavioral advertising? And, maybe, you should actually explain the difference.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes that's a great, great point. So for a long time, advertising ad supported services is something we've all been comfortable with and familiar with, for a long time, in the broadcasting industry
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes, in the pre Internet era
MS. SLAUGHTER: that's
MS. ROSENWORCEL: that's what it was about.
MS. SLAUGHTER: That's how television was paid for. That's how newspapers were paid for. Contextual advertising is, if I am watching a, a show, let's say, maybe, I'm watching a sporting event, a race, a racecar event, they will serve an ad about cars, because they think I am interested in cars, because I'm watching this show.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Which seems reasonable.
MS. SLAUGHTER: It seems very reasonable.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And that's what you saw on traditional media, like
MS. SLAUGHTER: And
MS. ROSENWORCEL: you described.
MS. SLAUGHTER: And everybody sees that everybody, who's watching the car shows sees the same ads and, anybody who wants to know what ads are shown to people watching the car show, can easily look at what ads are shown, because they're shown to everybody.
Behavioral advertising is a little bit different. Behavioral advertising takes information about your particular behavior, which websites you've looked at, which articles you've read, which flat screen TVs you've put in your shopping cart online and not clicked purchase on, and then uses that information to serve you, particularly, a specific ad.
And when I say you particularly, it doesn't always mean it's associated with the name Jessica Rosenworcel, but it may be associated with your particular IP address, your particular browsing history.
And that means you get the the efficiency argument for this is that you get content that is better tailored to your particular interest and that's good for you.
Because, you don't, maybe, you don't actually care about cars, maybe, you really only care about, like I said, the color block swimsuits.
So there's an argument for its efficiency. But it also means that, companies have amassed huge files of data.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Like treasure troves.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Treasure troves. That we can't even fathom, on each of us, in everything we do across the Web. So it's not just which stories you've read on Facebook, but it's which websites you've gone to off of Facebook and which things that you've listed.
And when this comes up, people notice it all the time, and they started commenting, it's what I used to call when I worked in the Senate, the ick factor.
People would be like, why am I getting an ad for this flat screen TV that I looked at on a different computer, how do they know that I looked at it? And it's because you're being tracked.
And so that feels invasive, in the first instance. But I also think we have to think seriously about what are the broader, or even narrower, societal harms that flow from this?
I think about children, what content is targeted towards children, is manipulative content targeted towards children, who have a less of a facility and a less of an ability to, sort of do their own filtering?
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Then we also have more specific laws, when it comes to children under 13
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes that's right. But, but that law, COPPA, Children's Online Privacy Protection Act
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Right.
MS. SLAUGHTER: it's about 20 years old, so much more modern than the FTC statute, but still 20 years
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Twenty years is a long time in technology.
MS. SLAUGHTER: is a long time in technology. So COPPA prohibits the collection of information about children without their parent's consent.
Again that's not exactly the same, as the targeting of information to children. So when I think about the harms that we worry about, this is some of the stuff that I think about that goes beyond the particular confines of what we traditionally think of, as privacy.
And I'll give you another example. I have, in addition to the baby, I have two older children. My 7 year old really likes playing jigsaw puzzles. But, when he does them at home, if he does traditional analog jigsaw puzzles, his 5 year old sister tries
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Uh oh, their coming for those pieces
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes
MS. ROSENWORCEL: I can see, yes.
MS. SLAUGHTER: exactly. Ellie tries to help and the baby tries to eat the pieces. And this is very frustrating for him. He's very patient, but it's frustrating.
So he we have, you know, a device that we allow the kids to use that we curate and only put things that we approve on it. So I thought I'd put a jigsaw puzzle app on it, so he could do it, nobody's eating pieces, everybody wins.
And I went online, to look for a jigsaw puzzle app, and there were two options, one that you had to pay for and one that was free, because
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh I yes.
MS. SLAUGHTER: notwithstanding all
MS. ROSENWORCEL: A lot of us know that.
MS. SLAUGHTER: of my professional expertise, I'm a, you know, cheap government employee, and so I put the free app, on his
MS. ROSENWORCEL: We'll, we'll say frugal.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Frugal government employee. And so I put the free app on his device. And, not too much longer, my husband came over and said, what on earth did you put on our son's iPad?
And I was like, it's just a puzzle app. He's doing puzzles, this is great. It's, like, good for his brain, it's excellent. And he was like, no, he's sitting there watching these videos.
I he said, I was sitting there and I heard these videos, one of which, was talking about the perils of women working outside the home.
And I assumed that you didn't put that there, on purpose, because you know, he knows that's not my usual content fare, and I said no that's right.
And it turned out that, in this app, in order to play, in order to get hints for your puzzles, you could just watch videos and play them.
And so there was this content that was being delivered to my kid that was sending really damaging messages that I didn't approve of, or want him to be hearing and that, I worry about his ability to filter, because he doesn't have an adult brain.
So obviously, I deleted that app, I put on the paid app. And that's fine, I can make that decision, and I have the resources to do that.
But, I really worry about a world, where quality content is reserved for people with resources, and people of less means have to pay with their data or with their eyeballs and their willingness to receive messages that may not be what they want to hear, or may be manipulative.
And this isn't just about parental oversight. I mean this goes to fundamental sanctity of our institutions of democracy. And we saw that in the last election, we're going to continue to see it.
You know, there is reams of evidence of foreign powers trying to use social media and divisiveness online, to influence U.S. elections. This is a big deal and it's something that we should all be really, really concerned about. And it starts with the privacy harms.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Do you think the FTC has all the authority it needs right now, to tackle those privacy issues, which are so vast and touching all of us in our digital lives, in so many ways?
MS. SLAUGHTER: So not long after I started at the FTC, our Chairman announced a series of hearings, to look at, sort of, where we are in the 21st Century.
And I said that I thought this was a good idea and, what I really hoped to get out of this is the answer to two questions, what more and better can we be doing, today, with the authority that we have?
And, where could we use more and better authority to tackle some of these problems? And I don't think that those answers are mutually exclusive.
So I think that there are some things that we could be doing more effectively and better, today, with the laws and the resources that we have.
At the same time, we are grossly under resourced, as an Agency, you know, we have about 1,100 employees regulating all the things that I talked about.
European countries, often, have 1,100 employees doing just data protection and data privacy and that is one sliver of our mandate. Another statistic that's useful to think about is that we had about 50 percent more employees, at the beginning of the Reagan Administration, than we do today.
And that's not an accident, right? Like, we were systematically downsized, in order to limit our effectiveness and limit our enforcement. So that's a real problem.
Also, as I mentioned, when I said, earlier that we don't do as much policymaking, as some of our sister agencies like the FCC do, it's because our rulemaking authority is substantially more limited.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: It's limited to specific laws, at this point, right?
MS. SLAUGHTER: It's limited to specific laws, to use standard APA rulemaking, but on the consumer protection side, we do have rulemaking authority, under a different statute called the Magnus and Moss Act, which is, sort of, like, the cranky neighbor of the APA of the administrative
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Well that's a way to
MS. SLAUGHTER: procedure side.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: describe it, yes.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, it's like, there's a lot, you got to jump through a lot more hoops. You, sort of, have to yell back and forth with people a lot more.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: So is the Agency looking at using it that way, or
MS. SLAUGHTER: So
MS. ROSENWORCEL: is that just early days in that discussion?
MS. SLAUGHTER: I think it's early days, but that's something, I think, we should really explore, when it comes to data protection and think about, okay, let's not wait for Congress to act, let's think about, whether and how we can do a better job setting out rules of the road, for how consumers' data should be used.
Because, right now, what happens is, we bring cases and create, sort of, a common law of understanding of what counts as an unfair, or deceptive, act or practice in the data protection realm.
But, I think, it would be better for consumers and, candidly, better for businesses, if we could be clearer and more upfront about here's what's expected and here's what's not expected, here's what's within bounds and what's not.
I have never really understood the allergy in industry to rulemaking, as a general matter, because rulemaking, to me, is a way of the Government being clear and up front, in a participatory, notice and comment process that says, here's what you can do and here's what you can't do.
And, to the extent that businesses want certainty, it's a much better way to provide certainty, than guessing and falling afoul of an enforcement action.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's a good point.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes. So I so I, you know, we are in an era where Europe has passed a data protection law, California has passed a data protection law, there's
MS. ROSENWORCEL: But not Washington, yet?
MS. SLAUGHTER: But not Washington, yet. Although, there is a bipartisan group of our former colleagues, who are working very hard, with their bosses, to try to develop something.
And I think smart, good people are working on this issue and, I don't think, we can wait around for them to act, to, sort of, do the best we can, as I said, with the tools that we have, now. But, I think, their acting would also make our job a lot easier.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right. So I'm going to switch gears just a little more.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Sure.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Anti trust. That's also in the news, a lot, much like privacy, talking about concentration in the economy.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And you've mentioned competition policy. So explain, a little bit, the FTC's role in that.
MS. SLAUGHTER: What we want, is we want companies to be competing to development the best products and provide things at the best prices for consumers.
And we also want them to be competing for workers and supply. We want them to provide the best jobs, at the best benefits and the best wages.
And the thing that incentivizes them to do that, on both sides, the supply side and the demand side, is knowing that someone else out there might be doing it better.
So you got to get better, so you can beat your competitor, you can provide better products to consumers, you can get more market share. That's great. That's called
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And innovate.
MS. SLAUGHTER: And innovate. More market share, provide better products that innovate and grow. This is excellent. Sometimes, this goes wrong, and it goes wrong in a couple of different ways.
Sometimes, companies get big, because they are doing this really, really good innovating and growing and providing better products.
But, sometimes, they get big, because they use the market power that they have unfairly, to exclude potential competitors, to make it harder for people to compete.
Sometimes, they get big because they buy up other companies, in a way that rather than enhancing competition, will lessen competition.
And, sometimes, they work with people, who are supposed to be their competitors, and make deals to, like, split markets, or split customers, or fix prices, or fix wages.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: So what does the FTC do, in this environment?
MS. SLAUGHTER: So we try to stop that. And that is what we are supposed to do. We evaluate mergers to figure out if they are likely to substantially lessen competition. That's our legal standard.
And if they are, we sue to block them. And, if and we investigate conduct, to figure out, if it violates the anti trust laws and, if we think it does, we sue to stop it.
I emphasize the point about suing, because I think it's important to remember that, our authority, unlike some of our counterparts in other countries, doesn't include the ability to just issue orders to direct companies to stop, or to block mergers. We can either, and this is true on the consumer protection side, too, we can't just issue fines.
We can investigate, find violations of the law, and then we can, either, negotiate with the targets of those investigations, to resolve the concerns we have, through a settlement, or we can take the companies to court and ask a court to say block a merger or fine a company.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: But, if a company
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: subsequently violates that kind of consent to your agreement you reached with them, you do have authority, to try to enforce it?
MS. SLAUGHTER: We have authority to seek fines, but again so like, we'll use the Facebook, for example, because it's in the public domain.
We had in 2012, 2011, the FTC investigated Facebook for some privacy violations, found that it had violated the FTC Act, through a number of deceptive practices around privacy, entered into a consent order, a settlement with the company that in which the company said, I promise I will not misrepresent how I'm handling consumer data going forward.
And then, when we investigated again, we found that they had broken that promise. And so they had violated their consent order. That meant that they were liable for, what we call civil penalties, which basically means fines.
But, again, we don't have the authority to issue a fine. What we have the authority to do is say to the company, we think that you violated this consent decree, you know, X thousands, or millions of times.
And, therefore, you're liable for civil penalties, and either you can pay us some amount we demand, or we will take you to court and seek that amount from a court.
I ended up dissenting on the Facebook case, because, I thought, what we, what the Agency agreed with them, in the settlement, wasn't enough to really remedy the problem and make sure that they wouldn't do it again.
And I would have rather that, we just took them to court and ask a court to say, either, issue a higher fine, or issue more constructive, or thorough injunctive relief.
And, either way, I thought, the process of taking them to court and transparently examining what we, what they had done wrong, would be a more effective way to stop it from happening again.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: So is going to court a really resource intensive activity and
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: the Agency shies away from it, because of that?
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, it's extremely resource intensive. It's not something we should do in every single case. If we can negotiate a settlement that will remedy the concerns we have, we should take that settlement.
That's a good thing to do. I'm in favor of that and I voted for a whole bunch of settlements. But, we really have to be confident that those settlements will remedy the concerns that we have and we can't be afraid to go to court if we don't think they're good enough.
Because at the end of the day, a settlement is just what a company will agree to. And, if a company won't agree to fix a problem, then we should sue them.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: So I suspect if I was to ask you what changes you'd like to see, at the FTC, you'd start when with more resources for things like, going to court, are there other of the changes that you'd like to see?
MS. SLAUGHTER: Going to court more, is an important one. I would also like more resources that we can invest more in technologic, in technological innovation and technologists.
So we, right now, have our Agency is divided largely into three bureaus, the Bureau of Competition, the Bureau of Consumer Protection, and the Bureau of Economics.
The Bureau of Economics allows us to put an economist on every single case we bring, to evaluate the economic elements of it. It is difficult, for me to think of a case we have brought that couldn't similarly benefit from the work of a dedicated technologist, and we don't have that.
We have some technologists housed within our Consumer Protection Bureau, but I think we need more and I think we need them across the board, because every case we have, competition and consumer protection, involves technology.
So that's one big thing that I think would be really important. I think that, we should consider, explore some of the rulemaking stuff that I talked about earlier, both, on the competition side.
So for example, that we've gotten a petition to explore a rulemaking banning non compete agreements, which is where employers prohibit employees from going to competing firms.
I think that's worth exploring substantially. And, I think, on the consumer protection side, like I said, we should explore Mag Moss rulemaking on data protection.
So as a general matter, I think, using the tools and the resources that we have more effectively is exactly what we should be doing and thinking about all the ways that we can do that, is, is a high priority for me.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Well that sounds good. Modernizing the FTC, right here, right now.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right. Now, before I let you go, I ask a few questions of everyone at the end of our conversation, a quick take on how you use the Internet. What was the first thing you recall doing online or on the Internet?
MS. SLAUGHTER: This is such a hard question. I, my first memory is of, Internet memory, is of the AOL dial up screen and the sound associated with it.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh. Absolutely that
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: that hum and the hiss, yes.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Yes, exactly. So I have a very vivid memory of that, and I don't have a particularly vivid memory of what I did, when I got to the other side of the dial up screen, other than, I remember it taking a very long time.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Although, I think, there was a lot of IM'ing, you know, with other friends, on the other side of that.
But, but I, you know, when I was in school, and this was that memory is from Middle School, for me, so it was, you know, the Internet was a part of my high school and college experience very much, but new when I was in Middle School.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes, so different in this generation of digital natives.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Totally different.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: So what was the, this is the mundane one, what was the last thing you did online?
MS. SLAUGHTER: I sent an email to my child's teacher, explaining that we had forgotten the library book, but I will bring it in tomorrow.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, I love that. That is so real. Okay, so now we're going to go high brow and ask you, what would you like the future of the Internet and digital life to look like?
MS. SLAUGHTER: It's a really good question. I think that what we have seen from the Internet and continue to see is enormous promise and enormous opportunity, for access to information, for communication among people.
And, I think that that has grown and that is a good thing. But I think alongside it, a whole lot of down sides have grown, a lot of, you know, harm, violence.
I think a lot about, particularly, violence towards women and other vulnerable populations and I think, what I would like to see, in the digital future, is more effective work by governments around the world, in partnership with industry and civil society groups to mitigate those harms, while facilitating the opportunities, which sounds very idealistic, but I do think
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh no, I think
MS. SLAUGHTER: But I think
MS. ROSENWORCEL: it sounds good.
MS. SLAUGHTER: But I think it's
MS. ROSENWORCEL: It sounds good.
MS. SLAUGHTER: I think it's absolutely possible. And I bristle a lot at the people, who say, anything you do to mitigate harms will, necessarily, mitigate innovation and mitigate opportunity.
I don't think that that's how it has to be, I think we have a lot of really smart people thinking about these things and that we can do a good job pulling back on some of the problems, while still creating the opportunities that we have.
And that's part of why I think a lot, about how we use the different tools that we have, right now, today, under the law, to most effectively deal with a combination of competition issues and consumer protection issues.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Listen, I think we should be optimistic, or choose to be optimistic that we can manage those challenges and still inspire that innovation.
MS. SLAUGHTER: As humanity, we have solved a lot of really complicated problems, I do not believe that this is the problem that will stymie us.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, I like that hopefulness. All right, where can folks follow you, to keep up to date with what you're doing, besides the FTC, of course?
MS. SLAUGHTER: Well you can find me on Twitter, @rkslaughterftc, and that's probably the base place to keep up with me.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, thank you, Commissioner Slaughter, for being here today.
MS. SLAUGHTER: Thank you so much for having me.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And, and thank you, to everyone, for listening. Take care.