Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft are among a group of tech companies that have been lobbying for a weaker federal privacy law this year, according to The New York Times (NYT).
Tech Companies Want to Write Their Own Rules
The new federal privacy law backed by tech and advertising companies would water down proposals from privacy groups and also override some states' own privacy laws, such as the recently passed privacy law in California or the strong biometrics privacy law in Illinois.
Earlier this June, California passed privacy legislation that granted consumers more control over how their data is collected online and shared by advertising companies. The law also allows consumers to delete the data companies have on them, while also mandating that companies provide the same level of service quality to those that opt-out of their data collection.
Illinois has had one of the strongest biometric privacy laws in the country for many years. Technology companies, such as Facebook and Google, have recently tried to kill it. The technology firms are now trying to kill these laws by essentially writing their own federal privacy law to override these strong state privacy laws.
Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council, a leading tech industry lobbying group that has been working on proposals for this new federal law, said: “We are committed to being part of the process and a constructive part of the process. The best way is to work toward developing our own blueprint.”
The Cambridge Analytica Fallout
The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal is one of the most significant privacy scandals in recent years. It also served as a wake-up call, not just for users of social media platforms but also for politicians who have started taking privacy regulations more seriously.
The California privacy bill was one of the consequences of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and tech companies have started to fear that other states will follow California’s lead on this.
According to the NYT, tech companies that make much of their revenue from advertising, such as Google and Facebook, initially vowed to fight all new privacy rules. However, since the California privacy law passed, the companies are now more willing to accept some rules, as long as they are “deeply involved in writing the rules.”
Chris Padilla, vice president for government and regulatory affairs at IBM, told NYT: “There has been a complete shift on privacy. There is now broad recognition that companies that were resistant to privacy rules can no longer just say no.”
According to NYT, the companies also seem more willing to cooperate now because they know the Trump administration officials are more inclined to agree to a more “business-friendly” approach to these privacy rules.
The administration announced that its blueprint for the new privacy rules will be out by the end of the year, but it’s possible it will be delayed as multiple federal agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission and the National Institute for Standards and Technology will have to get involved.
Tech Companies Want California’s Rules Nullified
According to the NYT report, the tech companies that support the new federal privacy bill agreed to collaborate only if the legislators would promise to nullify California’s recently passed privacy law.
In a statement to NYT, Jim Steyer, president of Common Sense Media, said: “The idea that the companies that violated our privacy for more than a decade will suddenly have a self-regulatory blueprint is ridiculous.”
Privacy advocates also noted that the companies were already working to undercut California's law, which won’t go into effect until 2020. The companies have until the end of this month to suggest technical changes to the language. If the Californian lawmakers don’t agree with the expected consequences of those technical changes, it’s possible that the tech companies may succeed in softening the law before it goes into effect.
For instance, the California Chamber of Commerce has already sent 19 pages of changes to Bill Dodd, one of the authors of the bill. In these edits, the Chamber of Commerce criticizes certain language, such as the law’s definition of “personal information,” because it would apply to too many people and websites.
Privacy advocates have called on Dodd to keep changes to the minimum, claiming the industry is trying to exaggerate the law’s potential negative effects against consumers.