The Messy Progress on Data Privacy

The latest attempt to enact the first comprehensive national data privacy law in the United States is causing typical nonsense in Washington. But in Congress and elsewhere in the U.S., we are finally seeing progress in rescuing Americans from an uncontrolled data-harvesting economy.

What is emerging are the growing consensus and (imperfect) laws that give people more control over real control and give companies more responsibility to control the almost unlimited harvest of our data. Given all the fights, strict lobbying tactics and gridlock, it doesn’t seem like a close win. But it is.

Let me zoom out the big picture in US tech companies like Facebook and Google, most of the anonymous data intermediaries and even local supermarkets collect any data on us that can help their businesses.

We benefit from this system in some ways, in which businesses find customers more effectively through targeted advertising. But the existence of so much information on virtually every person, with a few restrictions on its use, creates conditions for abuse. It also contributes to public distrust of technology and tech companies. Even some companies that have benefited from unrestricted data collection now say the system needs to be improved.

More smart policy and implementation is part of the answer, but there are no quick fixes – and there will be downsides. Some consumer privacy advocates have said for years that Americans need federal data privacy laws that protect them, no matter where they live. Members of Congress have debated such legislation in the last few years, but have failed to pass it.

Now, strangely enough, big companies, policymakers on both sides, and privacy policymakers agree that the National Privacy Act is welcome. Their motivation and vision for such legislation, however, is different. This is where it becomes frustrating.

A consortium comprising corporate and technology trade groups recently launched a marketing campaign calling for federal privacy laws – but only under very specific conditions, to minimize disruption to their businesses.

They want to ensure that any federal law would repeal strong state privacy laws, so that businesses could follow one guideline instead of dozens of potentially conflicting laws. Businesses can also expect that legislation passed by Congress is less disruptive to them than the Federal Trade Commission, which now has a Democratic majority, which implements anything.

This is one of the legal tugs of war that is inappropriate from the outside and has long angered advocates of consumer privacy. Evan Greer, director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future, told me that she sees corporate lobbyists as endorsing “waterlogged, industry-friendly laws that provide privacy in name only.”

Behind the shit, however, is the emerging explanation on many essential elements of federal privacy laws. Even the biggest sticking points – whether federal law should override strong state laws, and whether individuals can sue for privacy breaches – now seem to be functional middle grounds. One possibility is that federal law would repeal any future state laws but not existing laws. And people may be given the right to sue for breach of privacy in limited circumstances, including recurring violations.

Laws are not a solution to our digital privacy issues. Smart public policies also generate unwanted trade-offs, and sometimes poorly designed or poorly enforced laws make things worse. Sometimes new laws seem pointless.

Europe’s Comprehensive 2018 Digital Privacy Regulation, General Data Protection Regulation or the experience of most people with GDPR, annoying pop-up notifications about data tracking cookies. The first of California’s two digital privacy provisions in principle gives people control over how their data is used, but the practice often involves filling out heavy forms. And recent data privacy laws in Virginia and Utah largely give industry groups what they want.

Is there any progress in securing our data? Kind, yes!

Some privacy advocates may disagree with this, but imperfect laws and the changing mindset between people and policy makers are also profound changes. They show that America’s data-harvesting system defaults are being resolved and that more responsibility for protecting our rights goes to data-collecting companies, not individuals.

“Progress seems like absolute laws; there’s no such thing. It feels like a fit and a start,” Ganny Gabbart, privacy advocacy group, director of activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told me.

I don’t know if there will ever be a federal privacy law. Gridlock rules, and such regulation is difficult. But behind lobbying and indecision, the terms of discussion on data privacy have changed.

  • Array in cryptocurrency: Prices for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies continue to fall, as my colleague David Yafe-Belani points out.

    Also, the value of the virtual currency TerraUSD is assumed to be $ 1 each, and it has fallen far below that level. Here’s why it’s a big deal from my colleagues at Dealbook.

  • Local florists now deliver to Amazon: To speed up delivery in rural parts of the U.S., Amazon is experimenting with paying small businesses a few dollars per package to deliver orders to nearby homes, Ricode reports.

  • Instagram believes the new dad is interested in “disability” and “fear”. The Washington Post columnist explores why disturbing images disrupted his newborn’s Instagram feed and favored a way to reset social media algorithms when it doesn’t work for us. (Subscription may be required.)

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