Edward W. Felten has been named Chief Technologist of the Federal Trade Commission, in a sign that the regulatory agency intends to heighten its involvement in the national debate on security and privacy.
A professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University, Felten is also the founding director of Princeton’s Center for Information Policy. Felten’s background in the most sophisticated and arcane segments of computing began with his Phd thesis on developing an automated protocol for communication among parallel processors.
Somewhat of a gadfly, he hasn’t shirked from criticizing powerful high-tech companies, tangling with Microsoft over its browser and Intel over encryption codes. In addition, he was a key player on a team of computer scientists who demonstrated how voting machines could be hacked using novel techniques.
Famously, Felten equated Apple’s popular iPad with Disneyland. Comparing the iPad with Disneyland, he wrote on his blog shortly after the iPad was unveiled:
“To me, the iPad is Disneyland. I like to visit Disneyland, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” Felten went on to discuss Apple’s tight control over its iPad universe and said: “The iPad, like Disneyland, will continue to be an island of central planning in a sea of decentralized innovation.”
His appointment at the FTC is for one year, and early indications are that he will focus on privacy and security issues.
"(Felten’s) going to add unparalleled expertise on high-technology markets and computer security," said FTC chairman Jon Liebowitz in a statement. "And he will also provide invaluable input into the recommendations we’ll be making soon for online privacy, as well as the enforcement actions we’ll soon bring to protect consumer privacy."
Already serving as a part-time consultant for the FTC, Felten’s appointment as Chief Technologist will begin in January.