Free Enterprise Staff  | December 19, 2014

Q&A With F.T.C. Commissioner Julie Brill

The Federal Trade Commission is the kind of government agency everyone should know a lot about. Since that’s not always the case, who better to describe what it does than Julie Brill, an F.T.C. commissioner whom we got the chance to interview at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Data-Driven Summit in October.

Since 2010, Brill has served as one of the five commissioners tasked with guiding the F.T.C. Over the course of her four-year-long tenure, Brill has been a decisive voice on issues whose impact can be felt across the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.

During her time, the F.T.C.—which was established by Woodrow Wilson in 1914—has instituted rules and regulations restricting deceptive marketing tactics, and it has also won cases against what companies it has accused of anticompetitive practices. For example, this year the F.T.C. successfully argued that the Idaho Health System’s acquisition of Saltzer Medical Group violated federal antitrust laws, forcing the healthcare provider to unwind what had been the state’s largest independent doctor group.

But the F.T.C. has also seen its role transform since the start of the decade thanks in large part to the emergent revolution in data science. The F.T.C.—and, in particular, Brill—have taken a special interest in the exploding sector, which comprises a wide range of subjects. In the following clip, Brill explains what data-driven innovation is, and how it is impacting all aspects of society.

Because data-driven innovation is such a new phenomenon, policymakers, businesses, and consumers are still learning how to decipher what it means for research and development, as well as consumers. With businesses and organizations operating in essentially every industry increasingly relying on data in their work, its potential is ostensibly limitless. Yet as Brill explains in the following clip, there is one sector in particular that data has the ability to categorically upend—although that doesn’t mean its immense promise doesn’t come without risks.

Though manipulating data could, for instance, enable scientists to discover why certain people are predisposed to diseases like diabetes and cancer, some healthcare researchers remain hesitant to incorporate it into their research, Brill says. Overcoming their reticence will mean figuring out a framework that protects patients’ personal data. This is something that worries many consumers, and it is one of the biggest barriers that data-driven research must overcome, Brill argues in the following clip.

Yet achieving such an outcome cannot happen if American universities and businesses don’t make it a priority. To ensure that they do, Brill travels across the U.S., often speaking about the ethical use of data. “We can build a data-driven workforce for the future of innovation by training engineers, computer scientists, and others who are working with data to understand the ethical issues behind their work,” she said. “I think once we do that, we will have a workforce that is appropriately focused on how to use this data and move forward.”