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Staunch Consumer Advocate Is Front-runner to Lead FTC

Appointing a Current Commissioner Means Avoiding Congressional Approval

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As the Federal Trade Commission cracks down on things like mobile-data collection and ad claims, policy watchers on Madison Avenue await the naming of FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz's replacement. The likely appointee is already a commissioner, and many believe she's been actively pursuing the role. Considering recent criticism of President Obama's testosterone-heavy senior advisory staff, the fact that FTC Commissioner Julie Brill is a "she" doesn't hurt either.

Julie Brill
Julie Brill Credit: Bloomberg

Mr. Leibowitz's departure announcement came as the FTC unveiled its Mobile Privacy Disclosures report, guidelines suggesting mobile platforms and app developers obtain user consent when collecting location and other sensitive data. "This was Leibowitz's farewell present. Privacy has been a major initiative," said Linda Goldstein, partner at law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, who called the guidelines a "yellow light" for brands doing mobile couponing and other initiatives.

Mr. Leibowitz's last day at the FTC will be Feb. 15.

Ms. Brill, a staunch consumer-protection advocate, is well-liked and deliberative in her approach as commissioner, said Sarah Hudgins, director-public policy at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, who in her IAB lobbying role has met with Ms. Brill. "She's measured. ... She makes an effort to hear out every side," said Ms. Hudgins. Ms. Brill worked as Vermont's assistant attorney general for consumer protection and antitrust for more than 20 years. 

Julie Brill is not the only name being floated. However, her frequent speaking engagements -- she spoke on Data Privacy Day at the National Cyber Security Alliance in late January, for example -- indicate her comfort with and possible desire for a leadership position. And behind closed doors Capitol Hill, insiders anticipate the Obama administration will choose a woman for the role, in part because the president has selected many men for cabinet positions.

Ms. Brill is straightforward in her opinions on marketing practices. In a December interview on FTC.gov, she reiterated support for do not track, and called on companies to reveal more about how they combine online and offline data and for what purposes.

"We'd like to see all data collectors provide consumers with greater information about how they are collecting and using ... consumers' information so consumers can have access to that information and where appropriate, could correct it or suppress it depending upon the type of information we're talking about," she said.

Ms. Brill added she is "very interested in ad substantiation" and "competition in the high-tech sector."

Unlike non-commissioners, Ms. Brill would not have to go through a congressional-approval process if appointed. Considering the political capital expended by the administration to get former Sen. Chuck Hagel approved as secretary of defense, choosing a commissioner may be a desirable approach.

Commissioner Edith Ramirez, whose background is steeped in antitrust and competition issues, is also rumored to be on the list. As the former director of Latino outreach for the Obama 2008 campaign, she already has a connection to the president.

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