In its ongoing efforts to safeguard consumers’ private information, the FTC has charged two businesses [complaint 1 | complaint 2] with illegally exposing the sensitive personal information of thousands of consumers by allowing peer to peer file-sharing software to be installed on their corporate computer systems. Settlements with the debt collection business and auto dealer will bar misrepresentations about their privacy, security, confidentiality, and integrity of any personal information. Both companies must establish and maintain comprehensive information security programs.
P2P technology can be used in many ways, such as to play games, make online telephone calls, and, through P2P file-sharing software, share music, video, and documents. But the FTC has found that P2P software can pose significant data security risks. A 2010 FTC examination of P2P-related breaches uncovered a wide range of sensitive consumer data available on P2P networks, including health-related information, financial records, and driver’s license and social security numbers. Files shared to a P2P network are available for viewing or downloading by any computer user with access to the network. Generally, a file that has been shared cannot be permanently removed from the P2P network. In addition, files can be shared among computers long after they have been deleted from the original source computer.
The FTC alleged that EPN, Inc., a debt collector based in Provo, Utah whose clients have included healthcare providers, commercial credit organizations and retailers, failed to implement reasonable security measures for personal information on its computers and networks. As a result of these failures, EPN’s chief operating officer was able to install P2P file-sharing software on the EPN computer system, causing sensitive information including Social Security numbers, health insurance numbers and medical diagnosis codes of 3,800 hospital patients to be made available to any computer connected to the P2P network.
The agency charged that the company did not have an appropriate information security plan, failed to assess risks to the consumer information it stored, did not adequately train employees, did not use reasonable measures to enforce compliance with its security policies, such as scanning its networks to identify any P2P file-sharing applications operating on them, and did not use reasonable methods to prevent, detect and investigate unauthorized access to personal information on its networks. According to the agency, the failure to implement reasonable and appropriate data security measures was an unfair act or practice and violated federal law.
The settlement order with debt collector EPN bars misrepresentations about the privacy, security, confidentiality, and integrity of any personal information. It requires EPN to establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program. It also requires EPN to undergo data security audits by independent auditors every other year for 20 years.
In a separate case, the FTC charged that auto dealer Franklin’s Budget Car Sales, Inc., also known as Franklin Toyota/Scion, of Statesboro, Georgia, compromised consumers’ personal information by allowing P2P software to be installed on its network, which resulted in sensitive financial information being uploaded to a P2P network.
The FTC alleges that Franklin failed to implement reasonable security measures to protect consumers’ personal information, and, as a result, information for 95,000 consumers was made available on the P2P network. The information included names, addresses, Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers.
The agency charged that Franklin failed to assess risks to the consumer information it collected and stored online and failed to adopt policies to prevent or limit unauthorized
disclosure of information. It also allegedly failed to prevent, detect and investigate unauthorized access to personal information on its networks, failed to adequately train employees and failed to employ reasonable measures to respond to unauthorized access to personal information. Because Franklin is a financial institution, the alleged security failures violated the Gramm-Leach-Bliley (GLB) Safeguards Rule as well as Section 5 of the FTC Act. Franklin also allegedly failed to provide annual privacy notices and provide a mechanism by which consumers could opt out of information sharing with third parties, in violation of the GLB Privacy Rule. This is the FTC first action against an auto dealer charging GLB violations.
The settlement agreement with Franklin will bar misrepresentations about the privacy, security, confidentiality, and integrity of personal information collected from consumers. It bars Franklin from violating the GLB Safeguards Rule and Privacy Rule. Under the settlement, Franklin Auto must also establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program, and undergo data security audits by independent auditors every other year for 20 years.
The Commission vote to accept the consent agreement packages containing the proposed consent orders for public comment was 5-0. The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement packages in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through July 9, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final. Interested parties can submit written comments electronically or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Invitation To Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section.
Comments in electronic form should be submitted using the following links:
Comments in paper form should be mailed or delivered to Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form near the end of the public comment period be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions.
NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the respondent has actually violated the law. A consent order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the respondent that the law has been violated. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call
1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.