Facebook, Google data collection under fire in new US privacy bill

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 21 May 2019

The Facebook Inc. application is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPhone in this arranged photograph taken in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, April 22, 2019. As Facebook Inc. prepares to report first-quarter results Wednesday, analysts are confident that the social-media company has moved past negative headlines that dogged the stock throughout the second half of 2018 and is positioned to monetize its massive user base in new ways. Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

A Republican senator plans to propose a bill that would let consumers block all websites from collecting unnecessary data, a measure that would likely hurt the data-powered advertising businesses of Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook Inc, and others. 

While Congress is debating privacy measures that could allow consumers to opt out of data collection service-by-service, Josh Hawley’s proposal would allow consumers to choose a single setting that opts out of all data collection “beyond what is indispensable to the companies’ online services”, according to a statement. 

Browsers have long allowed users to send “Do Not Track” signals, but the feature is only a request and is rarely fulfilled, Hawley said in the statement. The measure would also ban companies from profiling users who activate the feature. 

The bill would impose fines against companies of US$1,000 (RM4,185) per person per day for willful or reckless violations, with a minimum of US$100,000 (RM418,550), according to a spokesman for the Missouri freshman, who has been among Big Tech’s most vocal conservative critics. Hawley plans to introduce the full text on Tuesday, the spokesman said. 

Data collection helps power the digital economy that many consumers rely on, from location-based services to social media sites. 

Ballooning market 

Tracking users’ browsing history also lies behind the ballooning digital ad market, which is dominated by Facebook and Google. Last year, US ad sales hit a record US$208bil (RM870.37bil), more than half of it online, according to researcher Magna. 

Hawley has introduced legislation to expand online privacy for young people and proposals to end video game purchases that have been compared to gambling and to block Chinese acquisition of sensitive American technology. He’s also calling for “sweeping changes” for Facebook and joined Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, in calling for a Federal Trade Commission probe of Amazon.com Inc devices. 

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who introduced draft legislation in November that could impose prison time for executives of corporations that fail to adequately safeguard Americans’ personal data, also included a form of mandatory “Do Not Track”. 

DuckDuckGo, a search engine that touts itself as a privacy-focused alternative to Google, has also proposed legislation on the topic. 

During a March hearing, Hawley told a Google lawyer that the company’s collecting geographic information from phones even when “Location Services” is turned off was like the scenario depicted in the song Hotel California

“’You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave’,” Hawley said. “That’s kind of what it’s like dealing with your company.” – Bloomberg

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