A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate earlier this week aims to put an end to the kind of shady data harvesting practices that have been running rampant in the Silicon Valley and beyond for well over a decade.
Sponsored by Republican Senator Deb Fischer and Democrat Mark Warner, the DETOUR Act wants to make short work of user interfaces and technology design practices meant to take consumers on a ride of deception, tricking them into giving over their personal data to companies with over 100 million users. Short for the "Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction Act," the legislation would have prevented the creation of Facebook and Google as we know them today had it been in force back when those two were but a couple of infants dreaming of monopolies and abuse of power.
The two Senators behind the initiative explained how they specifically wanted to address "dark patterns" with the DETOUR Act, referring to misleading design practices that essentially have tech companies lie to people, misrepresenting their need for certain privacy concessions to be made on the part of their users.
The bill draft proposed in the Senate forbids companies from building data-harvesting products aimed at pre-teens, prevents them from doing A-B testing without obtaining specific consent from users, and requires them to be subjected to independent audits meant to ensure they aren't devolving into evil corporations at least once per quarter. It's a remarkably pro-consumer piece of legislation, which is precisely why cynics don't expect it to get passed anytime soon, if at all.
Intentional efforts aimed at limiting users' understanding of online services and their rights, particularly as those relate to their personal data, is one of the most alarming issues plaguing the modern Internet, Senator Fischer said in a prepared statement, concluding that she hopes the DETOUR Act is just the beginning of things to come in regards to online consumer protections in the country.
More than just a page from the EU's book
If all of that sounds familiar, it's because the DETOUR Act is essentially a lite version of the General Data Protection Regulation, that pesky set of laws that have been troubling honest-to-God data harvesters in Europe for about a full year now. It's not as strict and its scope appears to be significantly reduced compared to GDPR but it's a clear sign of times for big tech in the United States. The land of the free is unfortunately also the land where big corporations were free to exploit every drop of the general public's goodwill in recent times, which is what indirectly led to Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, the privacy debacle that was the final nail in the Google+ coffin, etc.
Despite being at its most polarizing point in recent memory, the state of mainstream politics in the U.S. still sees both the GOP and DNC easily agree Internet firms need to be regulated more aggressively, which would be an encouragingly remarkable example of bipartisanship if it wasn't primarily a reminder about how anti-consumer some of these multi-billion-dollar corporations have become.