US consumer protection regulator steps down

Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz, head of the key US agency for consumer protection, announced plans Friday to step down on February 15.

Leibowitz, who has headed the agency since March 2009 and has been a commissioner since 2004, said he focused his work on privacy, cracking down on financial and health care scams and antitrust issues.

In one of the most controversial issues during his tenure, the FTC closed a lengthy antitrust probe into Google, saying there was not enough evidence to show the Internet giant manipulated its search results to harm its competitors.

"I have been honored to head this extraordinary, bipartisan commission and to work alongside the best staff in federal government," Leibowitz said in a statement.

"Our small but mighty agency has safeguarded the privacy of Americans and stopped predatory financial practices by companies taking advantage of cash-strapped consumers. Our antitrust enforcement has helped contain health care and drug costs, and helped reduce prices and increase innovation for smartphones, computer chips and other high-tech products."

The FTC statement said Leibowitz has worked to raise the profile of privacy, notably with settlements with Google and Facebook which barred misrepresentations.

Under Leibowitz, the FTC also updated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule that requires companies to get parents' permission before collecting personal information from children under 13.

Leibowitz encouraged Internet firms to implement a "Do Not Track" system for Web browsing, which remains controversial. Some firms have adopted this policy, but others claim it is counterproductive.