Project Description

(with Woodrow Hartzog)
114 Columbia Law Review (forthcoming 2014)

Since the late 1990s, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been enforcing companies’ privacy policies through its authority to police unfair and deceptive trade practices. In this article, we contend that the FTC’s privacy jurisprudence is the functional equivalent to a body of common law, and we examine it as such. A common view of the FTC’s privacy jurisprudence is that it is thin, merely focusing on enforcing privacy promises. In contrast, a deeper look at the principles that emerge from FTC privacy “common law” demonstrates that the FTC’s privacy jurisprudence is quite thick. The FTC has codified certain norms and best practices and has developed some baseline privacy protections. Standards have become so specific they resemble rules. We contend that the foundations exist to develop this “common law” into a robust privacy regulatory regime, one that focuses on consumer expectations of privacy, that extends far beyond privacy policies, and that involves a full suite of substantive rules that exist independently from a company’s privacy representations.