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Technology Giants Lobbying For User Data Privacy Legislation

Do you monitor what personal information companies access and store when you visit a website?  Do you wish you had more ability to know what companies do with such data?  In 2018, user data privacy rights have become a major topic for discussion. Starting with Europe’s enactment of the General Data Privacy Regulation earlier in the year, and California’s passing of the Consumer Privacy Act, we have seen many changes in the online legal world.  The trend continues, with internet giants now lobbying for a federal regulatory scheme, which would ease the number of laws they have to comply with if each state follows California and enacts its own user privacy legislation.  In this blog, we will provide an overview of the recent changes.

After California passed a law this year, which grants consumers greater data privacy rights, there has been much backlash from technology giants.  Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and IBM are currently lobbying officials in Washington for a federal privacy law that would overrule California’s legislation.  These technology giants are hoping for such legislation to be passed through Congress, as the lobbyists would influence how the law is written, giving them discretion over their ability to use personal data and information.  Because federal law on such a matter would supersede state law, California’s user privacy law may become naught.

According to Ernesto Falcon of Electronic Frontier Foundation, a user rights group, the strategy of Facebook, Google, and Microsoft here is “to neuter California[‘s law] for something much weaker on the federal level.  The companies are afraid of California because it sets the bar for other states.”  As user data and information is such a key part of the business model of the social media companies – who use such information to sell advertisements – they want as much freedom as possible to collect and exploit such data.

After a ballot initiative started in April by a group in the bay area led to the passing of California’s Consumer Privacy Act, large companies recognize that they can no longer deny issues related to user privacy.  According to an article by the New York Times that interviewed White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters on the issue, the administration is working on writing legislation “that is the appropriate balance between privacy and prosperity.”  While California’s legislation does not take effect until January 2020, it is also unlikely that any federal legislation would come into effect before then.  An outline of the proposed federal rules has been estimated to be complete by the end of this year, but lobbyists and interest groups from both sides will likely push the date back.

So, the Consumer Privacy Act was passed this year. However, the law permits legislators to make changes to the language of the law until the end of August.  This has led to interested parties on both sides continually lobbying.  In August alone, 19 pages of proposed changes have been sent to Senator Bill Dodd, the proponent of the bill.  Business groups claim the law is unclear on the definition of “personal information,” arguing that it is overbroad and covers too many people and websites.  Consumer activist groups are lobbying for the Act to remain as is and are stating that companies are hoping to neutralize the law’s effect.

Along with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which enacted the highest regulations to date concerning user privacy, we have seen many related changes and legislation in the United States.  Also, California’s Consumer Privacy Act has led more than 17 other states to consider similar legislation.  So, large technology companies are hoping for federal legislation regulating data privacy rights, as this would allow them to comply with one regulatory scheme rather than each individual state’s regulations. As the legislation and lobbying continues, we will do our best to keep our readers updated on current data privacy laws.

At our law firm, we assist clients with legal issues related to data privacy, internet law, technology, and e-commerce. Please contact us to set up an initial consultation.