Federal Internet Law & Policy
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Privacy : Enforcement Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY

The FTC authority is primary derived from the Federal Trade Commission Act. This Act "prohibits unfair and deceptive practices in and affecting commerce." [15 U.S.C. § 41 et seq.] It is considered broad authority empowering the FTC to conduct investigations, seek enforcement through injunctive and other equitable relief, and impose monetary penalties. [Cases] [Privacy Online 2000 n. 21 ]

Beyond this general authority, the FTC also has specific authority derived from a number of specific statutes such as the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, discussed below, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act which dealt with financial privacy. [Privacy Online 2000 p. 34]

It can easily be imagined how online privacy policies fall within this gambit. An online privacy policy is a representation between the commercial entity and the consumer. Where representations are made that are unfair or deceptive, the FTC has authority. Of course, where no representations are made, a company cannot be found guilty of misrepresentation and theoretically has license to do as it pleases (the FTC argues that there are actionable circumstances where the absence of representations is clearly deceiving or confusing relative to the information gathered and used). It is not full fledge privacy authority that obligates the creation of and adherence to privacy policies, but it is sufficient authority that the FTC has sought enforcement in a number of cases.



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FTC v Liberty Financial, No 982-3522 (FTC May 6, 1999) (FTC alleged that defendant was engaged in deceptive practices with regard to its privacy promise, representing that information would be anonymous, but collecting the information in a non-anonymous manner. This case was settled).

FTC v. Geocities, No. C-3839, 1999 FTC Lexis 17 (FTC Feb. 5, 1999) (FTC alleged that Geocities engaged in deceptive practices with regard to its privacy policy and the use of information collected. This case was settled).

FTC v. Toysmart , Civ Action 00-11341-RGS (DMass)

  • ToysMart Settles With FTC July 27, 2000 thestandard
  • FTC, Settle July 21, 2000 cnn
  • FTC Sues Failed Website,, for Deceptively Offering for Sale Personal Information of Website Visitors July 10, 2000 ftc
  • FTC Aims to Stop Sale of Customer Data July 10, 2000 newsbytes
  • FTC Sues July 10, 2000 cnn
  • FTC To Challenge Toysmart To Prevent Sale Of Data July 10, 2000 msnbc
  • FTC To Block Toysmart Data Sale July 10, 2000 ecommercetimes
  • FTC May Let Toysmart Sell Customer List July 21, 2000 zdnet
  • FTC Favors Plan For Toysmart July 21, 2000 internetnews
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