A few weeks back I expressed the opinion that Americans do not care much about privacy. I based this conclusion on both a lack of drive pushing privacy legislation forward and the general populace exhibiting a rather laissez-faire attitude regarding their personal information. It would appear to some small degree that this may be changing.
In an interview with NPR, Senators Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal discussed new legislation to control how social media companies collect and use children’s information. Specifically, the legislation was looking for more transparency in how companies use a child’s personal information. Where I had a visceral reaction was when Senator Blackburn was asked about controls already in place for organizations like Facebook. The senator responded as follows:
Yeah. What you’re going to see is these Big Tech companies are going to begin to talk about safety online. They’re going to talk about kids’ privacy online. They’re going to talk about creating that safe environment. But social media will push the envelope until we kind of slap their hand and rein them in.
That last sentence was what really got to me. Paraphrased, companies will continue to use data however they see fit until they are penalized. This reflects exactly what I previously had concerns about and really doesn’t do much to change the situation. When Senator Blumenthal was pushed about how the government would be able to stop abusive practices, his answer essentially boiled down to letting the FTC deal with it.
The proposed bill, the Kids Online Safety Act, also brings anyone from 17 years of age or younger into scope for these proposed protections. The bill has bipartisan support, but I was less than impressed with the magnitude of support. When asked when we can see a vote on this bill, Blackburn suggested that “moms and grandmoms” would be the main drivers of this legislation.
However, I remain pessimistic about this being voted on both because of existing partisan divides and the lack of grandma-based political action committees to lobby for the bill. I would hope that both Senators push harder for this bill, as well as give it some teeth. Frankly, I still do not see the average parent worrying about online privacy as much as other issues. In fact, most parents see this as a personal issue, not something they are waiting for the government to act on.
Now if either Senator, or any elected official, wants to leverage privacy to bolster their platform, I welcome it. I won’t hold my breath waiting for this or other bills to pass, but I look forward to whatever the outcome may be. While this bill will impact large data collectors, like Facebook or other social media companies, it may still be too little.