Dec 7, 2015

Legal Advice Firm Warns its Clients About Alum Ashkan Soltani (MIMS 2009)

A column on the legal website Lexology warns technology companies to “get smart about privacy and technology,” because government regulators mean business — including Berkeley I School alumnus Ashkan Soltani (MIMS 2009), the current chief technologist of the Federal Trade Commission.

Lexology is a web-based service that provides company law departments and law firms with the practical intelligence.

“By hiring Soltani, one of the sharpest computer privacy experts in country, the FTC showed it was serious,” warns author Mark Sableman of Thompson Coburn LLP. “Soltani and his colleagues haven’t just quietly studied Internet privacy. They’ve been active and savvy in getting the word out on their studies.”

The article also draws attention to “an upcoming book by a technologically sophisticated lawyer [which] promises to give Internet businesses some guidance on FTC regulation of privacy on the Internet.” That technologically-sophisticated lawyer is Chris Hoofnagle, a former co-author and colleague of Soltani’s and a new adjunct professor at the School of Information.

Agencies’ experts make privacy regulation a serious threat

Mark Sableman, Thompson Coburn LLP

Now is the time to get smart about privacy and technology, because your government regulators are smart and savvy in those areas....

Take Ashkan Soltani, the relatively new Chief Technologist for the Federal Trade Commission. Just by hiring a chief technologist, the FTC showed awareness of the need for deep computer expertise to effectively regulate privacy and commercial practices on the Internet. And by hiring Soltani, one of the sharpest computer privacy experts in country, the FTC showed it was serious....

Soltani and his colleagues haven’t just quietly studied Internet privacy. They’ve been active and savvy in getting the word out on their studies....

Soltani and his colleagues and co-authors, many of whom, like him, are motivated by their need for more privacy protection, focused their research on exposing technologies (like Flash cookies) that collected or revealed information that consumers thought was private. Many of their research projects became the foundation of class action lawsuits against companies that made privacy promises in ignorance of these technologies....

Where do you go if you want to stay ahead of Soltani?

That may not be easy to do, but companies that are active on the Internet and their lawyers should at least actively survey and stay abreast of the technical literature, including the reports still being generated by Soltani and Mayer’s former colleagues. Lawyers should craft Internet privacy policies and practices with references not only to their clients’ good intentions, but also to the specific technologies deployed, and the research on how they actually work.

Finally, an upcoming book by a technologically sophisticated lawyer promises to give Internet businesses some guidance on FTC regulation of privacy on the Internet. The author? Christopher Hoofnagle, of Berkeley, one of Soltani’s former co-authors and colleagues.

Soltani’s personal website now contains a simple notice and the graphic of a “Gone Fishing” sign. Unless you want to be one of the fish that he catches, you should get smart about privacy and technology.

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Ashkan Soltani (MIMS 2009), FTC chief technologist
Ashkan Soltani (MIMS 2009), FTC chief technologist
Adjunct professor Chris Hoofnagle
Adjunct professor Chris Hoofnagle

Last updated:

October 4, 2016