FTC commissioner Terrell McSweeny (I'm typing from the metro so maybe double check that spelling) chats with attendees following her discussion of technology's role in consumer protection.

FTC commissioner Terrell McSweeny chats with attendees following her discussion of technology’s role in consumer protection. (Geordan Tilley/Medill News Service)

WASHINGTON — Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Terrell McSweeny said Monday that increased transparency is the best way to deal with the threat posed to consumer privacy by continued data collection.

McSweeny spoke to a small audience at the Brookings Institution on the challenges of protecting consumers and promoting innovation in a time of growing data collection. She also gave her view as to how the FTC should meet those challenges.

“I think it’s true that technology created the problem and now we’re relying on technology to fix the problem,” McSweeny said.

McSweeny said consumers’ most important complaint is about the lack of transparency in data collection. She said the public’s feeling of security is crucial to continuing innovation, which keeps markets competitive.

“Trust is a fundamental issue for consumers,” McSweeny said. “Consumers may not adopt new technology as willingly if they don’t feel that they can trust it.”

McSweeny said an essential part of ensuring that trust is bringing more tech savvy people  into government to explain to consumers what’s going on.

A report published by the Pew Research Center last November supports McSweeny’s argument, saying individuals who had more information about government surveillance programs were also more likely to trust those programs. That same report says current levels of trust are low.

“Because a lot of these technology problems are increasingly technical, we do need technology experts and politicians to be able to explain to people how these things work,” McSweeny said.