May 14, 2018 / 8:11 PM / 4 months ago

U.S. senators oppose trade group's lawyer as consumer watchdog

WASHINGTON, May 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Trade Commission should delay a vote to name its top consumer advocate, three Democratic U.S. senators said on Monday, citing the appointee's work for Equifax, Facebook, Uber and other companies the FTC has probed.

The FTC is considering making Andrew Smith, a partner at Covington and Burling, LLP, head of its consumer protection bureau. Smith has worked for the Consumer Data Industry Association, whose members include credit reporting companies like Equifax, which is under FTC scrutiny following a massive data breach last year.

Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal and Brian Schatz said in a letter that Smith's prior work, and the likelihood that he would be recused from big FTC investigations, meant he was "unfit and unable to function as the FTC's top consumer advocate."

"Mr. Smith has every right to represent corporations that have harmed consumers, and those companies have every right to be represented by Mr. Smith," the lawmakers wrote in the letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons. "It is impossible to believe that the best candidate (to head consumer protection) is someone with a long record of representing companies that have been accused of hurting consumers."

The lawmakers asked the commissioners to delay a vote on Smith while they dug into his past work, and potential conflicts of interest.

In addition to the Equifax probe, the FTC is also reviewing whether Facebook violated a 2011 FTC consent decree over its privacy practices following allegations that Cambridge Analytica improperly gained access to user data for 50 million people without users being notified.

Uber has settled with the FTC over a 2016 cybersecurity hack and over allegations that it misled drivers about potential earnings.

Smith declined comment. The FTC declined comment. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by David Gregorio)

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