Data privacy has been a hot topic this year, with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation in Europe. The GDPR obliged tech companies to be more transparent about what user data they were collecting, and to give users options to view or delete their data. But legislation in the U.S. has not kept pace, with a lack of political will to crack down on data abuses by big tech companies.
Now, one Democratic senator from Oregon, Ron Wyden, wants to change that. He has drafted a data privacy bill for the U.S. that proposes sweeping changes to data laws to make data use more transparent and accessible to customers. Called the Consumer Data Protection Act, the bill aims to protect Americans’ privacy by giving customers more control over the sharing or selling of their data, and by giving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the power to set privacy and security standards and to impose fines on companies that fail to protect data.
A proposed measure that is sure to be popular among the public is a “Do Not Track” system, which allows people to opt out of being tracked on the web by companies personalizing advertisements. This is the digital equivalent of the popular Do Not Call Registry established by the FTC in 2003, which allows people to opt out of receiving phone calls from telemarketers.
Other proposed measures in the bill include hiring 175 more government staff to regulate the market for private data, and requiring that companies assess the algorithms that they use to process consumer data to determine whether they impact discrimination, privacy, or bias. This is particularly significant as algorithms become more important in processing data, but are vulnerable to the same biases as the humans that create them.
As much as there is for the public to like about Wyden’s bill, the reality is that it is unlikely to ever be signed into law. The tech lobby has a powerful influence over federal and state policy and the big tech companies will certainly resist any attempts to bring them into line regarding data privacy. But in terms of educating the public about what healthy data protection legislation could look like, Wyden’s bill provides an excellent starting point.