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Policy

Senate to Vet FTC Nominations

11/14/2011 5:44 PM Eastern

Washington -- The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a
hearing Tuesday afternoon (Nov. 15) on the renomination of Federal Trade
Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz, as well as the nomination of Maureen
Ohlhausen to fill an open Republican seat on the FTC.

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz

Ohlhausen, who will fill the seat of Republican Bill
Kovacic is former director the FTC's Office of Policy and Planning. She spent
a dozen years at the agency before leaving to join law firm Wilkinson Barker
Knauer as a partner
.

According to testimony for the hearing, Leibowitz said
consumer privacy would continue to be a "major focus" of the FTC. He
also will say he has heard the committee's concerns about a host of new technological
privacy challenges, including mobile apps, flash cookies, geolocation and
facial recognition software.

Leibowitz will also talk about industry-wide codes of
conduct, which the FTC has encouraged, and the difficulty of protecting privacy
in an age when kids are more tech-savvy than their parents.

For her part, Ohlhausen will say that the challenge of data
privacy and security is to help consumers without "diminishing the
consumer benefits or hampering competition and industry innovation." She
will also state her commitment to strong antitrust enforcement.

Leibowitz signaled that he expected to get some questions
from the committee about its report on food marketing to kids, a report that he
said has seen "dramatic improvements" following input from
stakeholders.

That report has been
a subject of heated debate on Capitol Hill.
A joint hearing on the recommendations last month featured government
officials, including FTC Consumer Protection Bureau chief David Vladeck,
explaining that the principles announced last April are only voluntary
recommendations to Congress that industry can ignore if it so chooses. Legislators,
primarily Republicans,
countered that the rules represent government intrusion
into family meal
planning  and focus on marketing, without
scientific backing, rather than on encouraging more physical activity.

Food marketers breathed a little easier last month after
Vladeck signaled that the FTC would modify some of the guidelines.

He said, for example,
that after taking into account thousands of comments, the commission would not
recommend to Congress that it generally expand those guidelines to marketing of
foods to kids 12-17, as the original plan had proposed.

Vladeck agreed that it is often tough to distinguish between
marketing to teens and to a general or adult audience, a point industry
marketers made in opposing expanding the age range. He also said the FTC does
not think the guidelines should apply to sports-event sponsorships, and that
the commission does not plan to recommend that marketers remove branded
characters from packaging that does not meet food guidelines.

Those were all plusses for advertisers and media companies
concerned the new voluntary guidelines could turn into regulations by proxy,
and for GOP legislators, some of whom had called for rescinding the guidelines
altogether.

 

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