The FTC's next chief technologist is on a quest for better passwords

Privacy expert Lorrie Cranor will replace Ashkan Soltani in January

Lorrie Cranor Privacy FTC

Privacy expert Lorrie Cranor.

Credit: Lorrie Cranor

Privacy issues will likely stay at the forefront of the FTC's focus next year thanks to the commission's appointment of Lorrie Cranor as its new chief technologist.

Cranor, who is currently a professor of computer science and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, directs the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory. She will succeed Ashkan Soltani, the privacy expert who assumed the role in November 2014, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced on Thursday.

Cranor will join the FTC in January.

"I’m looking forward to participating in the great work the agency does in the areas of consumer privacy and data security," she said via email.

Cranor's recent efforts have focused on the Usable Privacy Policy Project, usable and secure passwords, privacy decision making, user-controllable security and privacy, and usable cyber trust indicators. She is also a co-director of Carnegie Mellon’s Privacy Engineering masters’ program. The video below outlines some of her work.

Cranor has served for eight years on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's board of directors. Before starting at CMU, she was a researcher at AT&T Labs Research. She holds a doctorate in engineering and policy, masters’ degrees in computer science and technology and human affairs, and a bachelor’s degree in engineering and public policy.

"Coming towards the end of Obama’s term and from academia, the industry will see her as a threat but likely not take her seriously because they’ll doubt she can get things done," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group.

Used properly, however, Cranor's EFF connection "could make her surprisingly effective," Enderle said, particularly if her tenure is extended under the next president.

"Those opposing her won’t realize the threat she represents until too late," Enderle predicted. "As a result, she could actually make some surprising progress in terms of offsetting companies that are abusing their excessive power, which is an area that hasn’t seen significant progress for some time."

Given the technology industry's ongoing struggle with gender and diversity, Cranor's appointment is also notable for the fact that she's a woman.

Cranor isn't the only woman to have served in this FTC role: Harvard professor Latanya Arvette Sweeney was chief technologist for much of 2014. Nevertheless, her appointment elicited enthusiasm from numerous organizations focused on women in computing.

"Lorrie attended the first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in 1994 and returned in 2014 as an invited technical speaker," noted Elizabeth Ames, a senior vice president for the Anita Borg Institute, which produces that annual conference.

"She is an excellent choice and an outstanding example of the many capable and talented women technologists in the field today," Ames added. "It is particularly rewarding to see women of her caliber getting the recognition and opportunities that they deserve."

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