Microsoft Hires Former FTC Commish Brill as EU Privacy Restrictions Loom

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Julie Brill
Julie Brill

Longtime digital privacy defender and former commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission Julie Brill will join Microsoft this summer. Following a yearlong stint with law firm Hogan Lovells as a partner and co-director of its privacy and cybersecurity practice, Brill will join Microsoft to head its Privacy and Regulatory Affairs Group under Brad Smith, the firm's president and chief legal officer, the company said Friday.

Brill has her work cut out for her as the internet giant and others in the digital ecosystem navigate the oncoming onslaught of data privacy rules set to take effect next year in the European Union.

Microsoft is among many cloud technology players serving digital marketers that are gearing up for the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect a year from now. Put simply, GDPR will place new restrictions on how companies can gather and use data related to citizens of the EU.

Microsoft is busy convincing clients that its Azure cloud technology offerings -- which are employed for digital marketing, e-commerce, marketing analytics, IoT and more -- are up to snuff to meet GDPR requirements.

"Julie's deep expertise in privacy, keen intellect and strong international relationships will enable our customers to use the Microsoft Cloud knowing that we will help meet their global technology regulatory needs," said Smith in a statement. The company said she will work with policy makers and regulators as well as Microsoft's engineering groups to incorporate privacy protections into products and services in order "to meet the new privacy standards established by the landmark European Union General Data Protection Regulation."

Before joining Hogan Lovells, Brill served as an FTC commissioner for six years, appointed in 2010 by President Barack Obama. With a history of focusing on privacy protection as chief of consumer protection for the State of North Carolina and earlier was an assistant attorney general in Vermont, Brill became a vocal critic of advertisers and data brokers when she believed their use of consumer data went too far.

In 2013, for instance, she said data brokers were "taking advantage of us without our permission," and called on Congress to legislate an initiative she called "Reclaim Your Name," which would have established technical controls allowing people to access the information that data collectors store about them, control how it is shared and correct it when necessary.

When she departed the FTC, she told Ad Age that she believed the ad industry's approach to self-regulation "could be vastly improved." Referring to the Digital Advertising Alliance's AdChoices privacy program and its triangular opt-out icon featured on targeted digital ads, she said, "I've long said that I don't think consumers understand it."

As Brill embarks on her new role at one of the world's largest digital media and technology firms, maker of the Edge and Internet Explorer web browsers and operator of the Bing search engine, Microsoft will also be navigating regulatory changes here in the U.S. Following the demise of Federal Communications Commission rules that would have restricted data use by Internet Service Providers, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last week proposed a reversal of internet provider classification rules that enable net neutrality, also referred to as the Open Internet Order.

Microsoft, as part of an industry coalition called Internet Association, opposes Pai's goal to kill net neutrality rules, which prevent ISPs from blocking or prioritizing internet access. "The existing 2015 Open Internet Order protects consumers from ISPs looking to play gatekeeper or prioritize their own content at the expense of competition online. Rolling back these rules or reducing the legal sustainability of the Order will result in a worse internet for consumers and less innovation online," the group said last week.

"I support the main goal behind the Open Internet Order, which is to prevent the blocking or degradation of sites and services that consumers want to reach," said Brill during a speech at the Hogan Lovells Winnik International Telecoms and Internet Forum in 2015. "The main purpose of the Open Internet Order is to deal with the issue of net neutrality, but it also holds major implications for privacy and data security. I welcome an expanded role for the FCC in enforcing consumer privacy protections," she continued.

It is unclear whether Brill will play a role in Microsoft's efforts related to net neutrality. Microsoft was unable to provide comment in time for publication of this article, and Brill was not available to comment.

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