U.S. FTC plans hearings on risks of Internet

FTC chairwoman calls for technologies to battle online dangers such as spyware

The Internet industry needs to create "self-regulatory regimes" and come up with new technologies to battle online dangers such as spyware, said Deborah Platt Majoras, chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday.

Majoras also called for "appropriate" law enforcement actions and better consumer education efforts to deal with online risks. Majoras, speaking at an Anti-Spyware Coalition event, said the FTC will host hearings late this year to help Internet users combat online dangers.

The FTC held similar hearings in 1995, but "no one even mentioned spyware or similar intrusive software," Majoras said. "Today, however, spyware is fast overtaking spam as consumers’ top online concern."

The hearings in 1995 showed great foresight, Majoras said, but technologies have changed in the last decade. "It is again time to look ahead and examine the next generation of issues to emerge in the global marketplace," she said. "How can we best protect consumers in a marketplace that now knows no bounds, that is virtual, 24-7, and truly global?"

The FTC didn't announce a date for the hearings.

The FTC will continue to file lawsuits against spyware distributors, Majoras said. "A consumer's computer belongs to him or her, not to the software distributor," she said. "Buried disclosures do not work, just as they have never worked in more traditional areas of commerce."

But Majoras also called on industry to police itself and to come up with new technological responses to spyware. Some operating systems and browsers are offering spyware-blocking software, and Internet service providers are offering spyware-blocking services, she noted. "I hope these efforts are just the beginning," she said.

She called industry self-regulation efforts, including the Anti-Spyware Coalition, "promising." One problem is disagreements about the definition of spyware, she said, although groups such as the coalition are making progress.