Markey, Blumenthal Push Senate Opt-In Privacy Bill

WASHINGTON — Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), have introduced the “privacy bill of rights” bill, the Customer Online Notification for Stopping Edge-Provider Network Transgressions (CONSENT) Act, which would require edge providers to obtain opt-in consent to use, share, or sell users’ personal information.

The senators have long pushed for an opt-in regime for sharing personal data, but are taking advantage of the spotlight trained on the issue to redouble those efforts.

Internet service providers have indicated they would be willing to accept privacy legislation if it applied to the edge as well. Charter Communications reminded folks of that willingness last week.

The new bill does not extend opt-in permission to data collection, but does say edge providers must notify users of such collection.

The bill would require the Federal Trade Commission to establish online protections for “customers” of online edge providers including Facebook and Google. “The avalanche of privacy violations by Facebook and other online companies has reached a critical threshold, and we need legislation that makes consent the law of the land,” Markey said. “The startling consumer abuses by Facebook and other tech giants necessitate swift legislative action rather than overdue apologies and hand-wringing,” added Blumenthal.

Specifically, the bill would, according to its language:
• Require edge providers to obtain opt-in consent from users to use, share or sell users’ personal information;
• Require edge providers to develop reasonable data security practices;
• Require edge providers to notify users about all collection, use and sharing of users’ personal information;
• Require edge providers to notify users in the event of a breach.
• These requirements would be enforced by the FTC.

Face the Music

That bill’s introduction came in advance of Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees (joint session) on use, and misuse, of online users’ data. Zuckerberg apologized and promised to do better, but Congress was looking for more.

Markey and Blumenthal had both requested that Zuckerberg testify following the revelations that political research firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed and monetized Facebook users’ data without their permission, which Facebook said was a violation of its policies.

At the hearing, Markey pressed Zuckerberg on the issue of opt-in and sought an endorsement of his legislation.

The Facebook CEO stopped short of that, but after some probing from Markey, did agree to opt-in in principle, although he said the details of how that would be accomplished was important. He added that Facebook would be willing to work with the senators on those details.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.