A bipartisan group of senators is pushing forward a privacy bill meant to offer some much-needed transparency on the data being hoovered by our digital devices. And for once, a bill like this actually has a chance of passing.
This week, Senator Amy Klobuchar reintroduced the 2019 Social Media Privacy Protection and Consumer Rights Act to the Senate, alongside fellow Democratic senator Joe Manchin and Republican reps John Kennedy and Richard Burr. In a nutshell, the legislation would mandate that all social platforms—from Facebook, to Youtube, to TikTok—replace their barely legible privacy policies with something that regular humans can read and understand.
The bill also mandates that these platforms give users the option to opt-out of the collection of “all personal data of the user tracked by the operator.” While many sites offer these opt-outs already in order to comply with GDPR, we’ve also seen some players turn those opt-outs into a mind-numbing hassle, while others have found convenient workarounds to keep tracking users that say no. Under Klobuchar’s drafted bill, platforms caught engaging in these shady tactics would be held liable under the FTC.
Meanwhile, if a user wants to see what kind of data is being collected from them, the bill states that these platforms need to be able to offer a copy—free of charge—detailing whatever data the company’s processed on an individual user. In cases where the company learns that their data has been caught up in a breach, the bill also mandates the platform notify any affected users within 72 hours.
When Klobuchar first brought this bill forward in 2019, Congress was still reeling from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and holding hearing after hearing to mull over what a potential federal privacy law might look like. Klobuchar’s bill was one of the seven presented that year that sputtered out in the Republican-controlled Senate. But things have changed.
The biggest hurdle here is that while everyone agrees that we probably need some sort of federal data privacy law, nobody can agree on what that law should actually look like. Democrats and Republicans have publicly sparred over whether federal law should preempt each state’s privacy laws, and whether the FTC should be solely responsible for prosecuting shitty companies, or if the bill should include a private right to action.
While Congress has been trudging along at an absolutely glacial pace, states across the country have been hard at work proposing and passing their own data privacy legislation, most notably the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The legislation isn’t perfect—even after getting some much-needed tweaking under Prop. 24—but it’s still the most comprehensive privacy law that’s been passed in the US. The California law had ripple effects for tech companies throughout the country, while tech giants like Facebook and Google have bent over backward trying to wiggle their way out of the new requirements. Hopefully, bills like the one Klobuchar is reviving will make that wiggling a little less easy.
You can read the full text of the bill below: