Biden-advised bipartisan commission says federal law should require “opt-in” data consent; result would disrupt $370-billion advertising industry
Online companies should by law have to get “opt-in” permission to collect, share, disclose or use personal data, with consent as easy to withdraw as to grant under a mandatory “privacy protection label”, according to a bipartisan commission proposing a “blueprint” for Biden administration tech policy.
The Future of Tech Commission’s data-privacy recommendations, the result of nine months of public listening sessions across multiple regions of the country, plus dozens of interviews with prominent industry and policy experts, would basically outlaw the way programmatic advertising works on the Internet, a major disruption to a $370-billion global industry that would force wholesale business-process and technology changes.
The “opt-in” standard is among a set of recommendations of the commission, whose co-chairs were former Massachusetts governor and one-time Democratic presidential candidate Deval L. Patrick; were Texas Republican Margaret Spellings, a former U.S. education secretary; and children’s privacy activist James P. Steyer of Common Sense Media. Money for the commission’s hearings, research and writing came primarily from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Knight Foundation and the Coulter Family Foundation. It began work in April, with advice from the White House and FCC. Nine “town hall” meetings across the U.S. were attended by more than 1,000 people; the report lists 150 people who were interviewed, including governors, academics, politicians and topexecutives of companies like Apple, Netflix, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, YouTube and Meta (Facebook).
“The ubiquity of technology in our lives, society and economy demands that the United States develop a coordinated national technology strategy,” the commission’s report says. It’s 52-page report, including findings of a 1,002-person phone and online survey, was released Feb. 18. (See QUOTE OF THE WEEK, below, for an excerpt of the recommendations).
The survey conducted in late-January and early February found privacy to be the No. 1 tech concern of the public and that there is bipartisan consensus on that and on the need for government regulation of data-tech industries. It found 76 percent of Americans support restricting companies from collecting and using personal data beyond what’s needed for effective service.
Besides data privacy and use, the commission made recommendations involving cybersecurity, antitrust and competition, innovation leadership. There was strong bipartisan agreement in the survey findings for that the government must play a role in establishing safeguards to protect consumers’ privacy, minimize mis- and disinformation, universal broadband and strengthening the nation’s cybersecurity.
“Across the Future of Tech Commission’s five pillars, privacy stood out as the clear priority for voters, with the security of their personal data at the top of their list of concerns, and policies strengthening privacy protection garnering the broadest and strongest support,” the report says. It also recommends collaboration with European Union privacy regulators.
Among other recommendations besides opt-in consent and labeling:
- Allow users to consumers to restrict the use of any personal data and block any use, sharing, disclosure or sale of their data with/by third parties.
- Prohibit tying consumer consent to data collection to the use of any product or service.
- Establish a grant program to teach digital literacy and citizenship (The survey found 82 percent of respondents supported “teaching digital citizenship skills in school.”
- Remove Section 230 immunity for information contained in paid promotion or advertising.
The recommendations also include at least three related to news and civic information:
- Create a public-interest media fund to invest in trusted local sources of information, supported by tech companies, a percentage of money from FTCfines on tech companies, and/or a merger transaction fee.
- Encourage development of independent, nonprofit local news centers to elevate voices of citizens in communities where journalism resources have diminished in recent decades.
- Enhance Corporation for Public Broadcasting support for local news gathering and dissemination of civic information content, especially in rural areas.
The survey found that:
- Eighty-eight percent of U.S. voter survey agree that tech companies should be required to ask consumer whether they can use their data. And 80 percent agree that the federal government should do everything it can to curb the influence of big tech companies “that use our data to reach too far into our lives,” the report says, adding: “No private company should have the latitude to collect, use or disclose personal information about us without explicit and informed consent.”
- Eighty-two percent of American voters now agree, “that we need to do more to regulate big tech,” the report says.
- Eighty percent agreed with the statement that “the federal government must do everything it can to curb the influence of organizations that have grown too powerful and now use our data to reach too far into our lives.”
Polling firm Benenson Strategy Group said its survey conducted Jan. 28-Feb.3 had a statistical margin of error for the entire 1,002-interview sample of 3.02 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. The commission released an earlier poll in September with similar results on privacy.