Messy Progress on Data Privacy

A recent attempt to create the first comprehensive national data privacy policy in the United States is causing widespread controversy in Washington. But given the chaos in Congress and elsewhere in the United States, we are finally seeing progress in protecting Americans from the unrestrained economy of information harvesting.

What is emerging is a growing agreement with (imperfect) laws that give people real control and companies more accountable to control the unlimited harvesting of our data. Considering all the controversy, cunning tactics and grid closure, it may not seem like a win from close quarters. But so it is.

Let me show you the big picture in US Tech companies like Facebook and Google, many anonymous data vendors and even local supermarkets harvest any piece of data about us that can help their business.

We benefit from this system in some ways, including when the business finds customers more effectively through targeted advertising. But the presence of a lot of information about everyone, along with a few restrictions on its use, creates an environment of misuse. It also contributes to public mistrust of technology and technology companies. Even some companies that have benefited from unrestricted data collection now say the system needs to be restructured.

Vigorous policy and implementation are part of the answer, but there are no quick fixes – and there will be limitations. Some consumer privacy advocates have said for years that Americans need a federal data privacy law that protects them no matter where they live. Members of Congress have debated, but failed to pass, similar legislation in the past few years.

What is surprising now is that large corporations, policymakers on both sides and those with no capacity for privacy seem to agree that national privacy law is welcome. Their motivation and vision for such a law, though, are different. This is where the frustration lies.

A consortium consisting of corporate and technology business groups recently launched a marketing campaign that requires federal privacy law – but only under specific conditions, to reduce inconvenience to their businesses.

They want to ensure that any federal law will invalidate the most powerful privacy laws of the state, so that businesses can follow one guideline instead of several of those that may conflict. Businesses can also hope that the legislation passed by Congress is less of a nuisance to them than anything that the Federal Trade Commission, which now has the majority of Democrats, implements.

This is one of the few legal issues that should not be viewed from the outside and is offensive to the long-term defenders of consumer privacy. Evan Greer, director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future, told me he sees what corporate advocates support as “restricted, industry-friendly laws that provide privacy in name only.”

Behind the scenes, though, there is an emerging consensus on many key aspects of federal privacy law. Even the main points of adherence – whether federal law should repeal strict state laws, and whether individuals can sue for privacy violations – now seem to have intermediate reasons that can be enforced. One possibility is that federal law would invalidate any future government laws but they do not exist. And individuals may be entitled to sue for privacy violations under certain circumstances, including recurring infringement.

Law is not the solution to our digital privacy problems. Even the strongest public policy yields unwanted business, and sometimes poorly designed or improperly implemented rules make things worse. Sometimes new rules may feel meaningless.

The popular experience of Europe’s digital privacy control 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR, is an annoying popup ads about tracking cookies. The first law of California’s two digital privacy principles in theory gives people control over how their data is used, but practically it often involves filling out troublesome forms. And recent data privacy laws in Virginia and Utah often gave industry groups what they wanted.

Is there any such progress in protecting our data? Kinda, yes!

Some privacy advocates may disagree with this, but even imperfect laws and changing attitudes between the public and policymakers are a major change. They show that the basics of the US data collection system are not open and more responsibility is shifting to data collection companies, not individuals, to protect our rights.

“Development seems to be not the perfect law; there is no such thing. It looks like it should start, ”Gennie Gebhart, director of activists for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a private advocacy group, told me.

I do not know if there will be a federal privacy law. Grid closing rules, and such controls are tricky. But behind the influence and the decision, the terms of the debate on data privacy have changed.

  • Similar to secret currencies: The prices of Bitcoin and other currencies have been steadily declining, which my colleague David Yaffe-Bellany said shows that the secret currencies are increasingly similar to the risky stocks of technology.

    Also, the TerraUSD mail currency is worth $ 1 each, and has fallen below that level. This is why it is such a great thing, from my colleagues at DealBook.

  • The local florist now sells to Amazon: In order to speed up shipping in rural America, Amazon has been trying to pay small businesses a few dollars for a package to deliver orders to nearby homes, Recode reported.

  • Instagram believed that the new father was attracted to “disability” and “fear.” A Washington Post columnist discovers why disturbing photos interrupted her infant’s Instagram feed and proponents of social media algorithms when they didn’t work for us. (Registration may be required.)

Puppppy coming straight to your face!

We want to hear from you. Tell us your opinion about this newsletter and what else you would like us to explore. You can reach us by

If you do not already have this newsletter in your inbox, please register here. You can also read past the vertical columns of On Tech.

Leave a Comment