The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced today that it will hold a series of three seminars in the spring focused on retail tracking, alternative scoring, and consumer health information.  The seminars are designed to shed light on new trends in big data and their impact on consumer privacy, according to the FTC. 

The seminars will be held in Washington, D.C. and will be open to the public.  The agency is inviting public comment on the proposed topics and expects to issue staff reports after the seminars.

Mobile Device Tracking, February 19, 2014

The first seminar will focus on how retailers and other businesses can track consumers’ movements through retail stores using technology that identifies signals emitted from the consumers’ mobile devices.  Retailers can use this technology to learn how long consumers stay in one location, whether a customer is a new customer or a returning customer, and what paths customers take through the store.

The seminar will focus on questions including how retailers inform customers about their tracking practices, and how companies can implement the principles of privacy by design, simplified consumer choice, and increased transparency when designing and using such technologies.

Alternative Scoring Products, March 19, 2014

The second seminar will focus on how data brokers offer companies scores that predict trends and behavior of customers.  Companies use these predictive scores for a variety of purposes, from identify verification and fraud prevention to marketing and advertising.  However, consumers may not be aware of the scores and “have little to no access to the underlying data that comprises the scores,” according to the FTC.

The seminar will focus on questions including what legal protections currently exist for consumers regarding the use of predictive scoring, what consumer protections should be provided, whether customers should have access to the scores and underlying data, and whether some scores should be considered eligibility determinations that should be scrutinized under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Consumer Generated and Controlled Health Data, Date TBD

The third seminar will focus on consumer-generated health data, including data that consumers upload to personal health records and apps.  Those services allow consumers to manage and analyze their data, but also move the management of health data beyond the traditional context of medical providers.  The date for this seminar has not yet been set.

The seminar will focus on questions including what consumers expect from these companies in terms of privacy and security protection, whether consumers differentiate between these companies and those offering traditional medical products and services that are covered by HIPAA, and what restrictions if any are imposed by advertising networks and others on the tracking of health data.

For the FTC’s full description of the upcoming seminars, click here.