Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is looking to hold tech giants' feet to the fire with the recently reported introduction of a new privacy bill. Dubbed the Mind Your Own Business Act, the proposed legislation aims to provide agencies with tools to address growing concerns about privacy as it concerns tech companies.
That broad description includes companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others. But Facebook appears to be at the center of it all. More directly, that's Facebook's co-founder, chairman, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
In a statement released alongside an outline of the proposal, Senator Wyden holds up Mr. Zuckerberg as an example. The senator says that unless Mr. Zuckerberg "feels personal consequences" instead of a "slap on the wrist" from the FTC, he won't take Americans' privacy seriously.
To that end, Mr. Wyden based the bill on the idea that consumers should be able to control their data and companies need to be transparent about its use. Further, they should be able to challenge any inaccuracies in that data. Executives like Mr. Zuckerberg, the senator says, need to be held responsible, particularly when they lie about protecting personal information. In the case of the newly proposed bill, that could include between 10 and 20 years of jail time.
How would this privacy bill affect tech giants?
A run-down of the legislation shows a bill that has matured since it was first circulated almost a year ago. As outlined in the official statement, the proposal still begins by giving the FTC the ability to establish standards for privacy and cybersecurity. That's on top of empowering the agency to collect fines for first-time violations, as well as the standards outlined above. Up to 4-percent of annual revenue could be collected from companies found in violation of those standards.
Tech giants adhering to the bill would need to stop requiring the sale or sharing of consumer data as a condition of use or offer a paid alternative. That fee would need to be waived for low-income users eligible for the Federal Communication Commission's Lifeline program.
In addition to the tenants listed here, the bill keeps its requirement that companies assess their data processing algorithms. That includes assessment across accuracy, fairness, bias, discrimination, privacy, and security.
Changes made to the bill stem from widespread feedback about the original. To begin with, it extends on a Do Not Track list established by the original. In effect, that stops companies from mining user data on behalf of other companies. It similarly strengthens support for low-income consumers.
The changes additionally clarify that the bill, if passed, would not supersede states' rights to create their own legislation. Simultaneously, it gives attorneys general the ability to enforce the regulations alongside the FTC.
Tax penalties are added on top of jail time for executives and the FTC is granted the right to distribute monies collected to designated nonprofits that would be set up to handle civil suits. States would set those up at their own discretion.
A pressing need for regulation
The "slap on the wrist" that's been served up to Facebook and other tech companies have centered exclusively around fines stemming from a number of FTC investigations. Specifically, it refers to a $5 billion fine paid by Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Facebook isn't the only company to have been investigated however and the bill would place similar constraints on those like Amazon, Apple, Google, YouTube, and Twitter. Several of those companies have made drastic changes to operations to avoid further conflict. But each has also noted the need for regulation to guide business activities more clearly.
For now, the newly proposed bill still needs to pass a vote before it can take effect to provide regulation of the industry. But that might be easier said than done since several drafts have already been put forward with no effect. While the bill could ultimately pass, there is an equally good chance this bill will face a similar fate due to the current wide partisan divide in Washington and an increasing focus on the upcoming 2o20 presidential election.