On Monday, December 7, the Federal Trade Commission began a three-part series of roundtables collectively entitled “Exploring Privacy.”  The conference opened with a presentation by Richard M. Smith featuring data flow charts he developed with FTC staff to illustrate the current “personal data ecosystem” and how personal information moves in various online and offline contexts.  The charts that served as the basis for his discussion (available here) offer a sense of the FTC’s understanding of today’s information marketplace.  Other panels covered topics such as consumer expectations, information brokers and online behavioral advertising.

The event’s closing session – “Exploring Existing Regulatory Frameworks” – featured several speakers including Barbara Lawler of Intuit who provided an overview of the Business Forum for Consumer Privacy’s “Use-and-Obligations” approach to privacy governance.  The Business Forum’s paper is available here.  In response to the FTC’s request for greater simplicity, Professor Fred Cate suggested a framework based on three categories of information-related activities:  those that are prohibited or heavily disfavored, those that are permitted without specific notice or consent, and a large middle ground that applies consent requirements on a sliding scale from implied to explicit.  The panel’s tone indicated a general consensus that the “notice and choice” privacy governance model is becoming increasingly irrelevant.  At the IAPP conference the following day, EPIC’s Marc Rotenberg agreed that “notice and choice is only effective when the consumer has real choices to make.”

The FTC’s Exploring Privacy series will continue with roundtables scheduled for January 28, 2010, in Berkeley, California and March 17, 2010, in Washington, DC.  The FTC is expected to complete the creation of the record during the January session and to explore future initiatives at the meeting in March.