Tech Giants, Chamber Offer Views on National Consumer Privacy Rules

By | September 14, 2018

Two technology trade groups on Wednesday released proposals for national consumer privacy regulations, adding to the chorus of businesses seeking to influence the growing momentum for stricter rules on how companies handle users’ personal information.

The move by the Internet Association, which counts Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. as members, and BSA | The Software Alliance, which represents Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp., comes as Congress and the White House are mulling actions that could affect the workings of the entire digital economy.

Internet Association President Michael Beckerman said in a statement that the group’s members “understand that people’s trust in online platforms is essential to the success of the internet,” and that “continuous improvement to both products and regulation are important and necessary for a thriving Internet.”

Among the six principles the Internet Association endorsed on Wednesday was data portability, which would allow consumers to take their personal information from one company to another that provides a similar service.

Data portability is backed by privacy advocates and would-be tech reformers such as Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who has raised the possibility that it could help increase competition that would rein in the companies.

The 10-point framework released by BSA | The Software Alliance, formerly known as the Business Software Alliance, would require the “affirmative express consent” from consumers for the use of sensitive data. That proposal parallels some of Europe’s new privacy rules, and exceeds the “opt out” power given to consumers by a newly-passed privacy law in California.

“We need to ensure clear, consistent, and transparent privacy rules,” BSA President Victoria Espinel said in a news release. “Now is the time to modernize the law.”

Both business groups call for policies that would allow users to know whether and how companies are using personal information they provide and let them request corrections or deletions of their data in certain circumstances. The groups also support making sure any national privacy standards preempt state laws and place primary enforcement of such regulations in the hands of the Federal Trade Commission.

State Laws

Privacy advocates, many of whom have objected to preemption of stricter state laws and fought against the Internet Association in California, may object to the framework. Some of the proposals are less specific than policies already in place at companies such as Facebook.

“We appreciate that the industry finally acknowledges it needs legislation and regulation, and that they are at least paying lip-service to the notion that individuals deserve control, access, portability, and deletion rights in addition to transparency,” Ariel Fox Johnson, senior counsel for policy and privacy at Common Sense, an advocacy group that supported the California law, said in a statement. She added that a proposal to preempt states’ privacy laws is problematic.

“States are much better prepared to be nimble in the face of future threats to American consumers, families, and kids,” she said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released earlier this month a set of policy positions on internet privacy, including a proposal that companies be shielded from lawsuits if they violate laws governing how they collect and use data on their customers.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing on September 26, 2018 on the privacy policies of top technology companies. Representatives from AT&T Inc., Inc., Google, Twitter Inc., and Apple Inc. Are scheduled to testify.

“Consumers deserve clear answers and standards on data privacy protection,” South Dakota Senator John Thune, a Democrat, said in a statement. “This hearing will provide leading technology companies and internet service providers an opportunity to explain their approaches to privacy, how they plan to address new requirements from the European Union and California, and what Congress can do to promote clear privacy expectations without hurting innovation.”

Business groups are weighing in on privacy rules at a time when tech companies are facing greater scrutiny in Washington over their data practices following revelations earlier this year that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, obtained information on millions of Facebook users’ without their permission, through the maker of a personality app.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is exploring a potential investigation of social media companies and will be briefed on Sept. 25 by Republican state attorneys general who are already examining the firms’ practices, Bloomberg has reported.

Topics Insurtech

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