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FTC gains full board, expected to tackle online issues

Two Democratic commissioners were confirmed Wednesday night to the Federal Trade Commission, bringing a full board to the agency as it attempts to take a higher-profile role in the digital age.

The Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee, Julie Brill, who has served as the senior deputy attorney general and chief of consumer protection and antitrust for the North Carolina Department of Justice since February 2009. Brill also served as assistant secretary general of Vermont. Brill’s term will expire September 2016.

She is expected to take an interest in online privacy and marketing. Privacy advocates have pushed the agency to look into the behavioral advertising by online companies including Google. They have also pushed for investigations into the privacy policy changes of Facebook last December and consumer complaints that Google’s social networking application Google Buzz may have released personal data of users.

Edith Ramirez is a partner at the private law firm Quinn Emanuel in Los Angeles. Her background includes copyright and antitrust cases. She will serve until September 2015.

The two Democratic picks replace Republican Deborah Majoras, who stepped down in March 2008, and independent Pamela Jones Harbor, whose term ended in September.

With three Democratic members in the five-seat commission, observers said Chairman Jon Leibowitz will be empowered in his goals for antitrust enforcement and consumer protections that will include online privacy.

“They are both exceptionally talented and committed, and will bring a wealth of experience, knowledge and new energy to the commission,” Leibowitz said.

Brill is lauded by consumer advocates. The FTC’s head of consumer protection, David Vladeck, has concentrated on cyber security and privacy, according to advocates. Last month, his bureau announced a broad investigation into companies whose employees were leaking personal data of customers and staff through the use of peer-to-peer applications.

“The Obama administration has chosen a powerful ally for consumer interests,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy.

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 4, 2010; 11:04 AM ET
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