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Sens. Warner, Hawley Team on Social Media Data Monetization Dashboard

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have teamed up to introduce a bill that would require social media platforms and other "data harvesting companies" to provide information to financial regulators and consumers on "exactly" what data they are collecting from consumers and how it is being monetized, and charge the Securities and Exchange Commission to come up with a method for calculating data value.

The social media revolution, driven by companies like Facebook and Google, relies on monetizing that data to keep the services free, at least at not charge. Though many, including the senators, point out that the price is the harvesting of that data, which they say is why they have introduced the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act.

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“For years, social media companies have told consumers that their products are free to the user. But that’s not true – you are paying with your data instead of your wallet,” said Sen. Warner, himself a former high-tech exec.

But he says the problem was the lack of transparency, which meant users didn't know the "data" price they have been paying. He says he wants the bill to provide that truth in billing, as it were, "which will encourage competition and allow antitrust enforcers to identify potentially anticompetitive practices.”

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Hawley is a freshman senator who has come out swinging at big tech, including teaming up with Democrats Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on updating kids privacy laws, and previously with Warner on a bill that allows users to opt out of nonessential data collection. He said of the latest bill: "When a big tech company says its product is free, consumers are the ones being sold....Even worse, tech companies do their best to hide how much consumer data is worth and to whom it is sold. This bipartisan legislation gives consumers control of their data and will show them how much these 'free' services actually cost.”

The DASHBOARD Act would:

  1. "Require commercial data operators to file an annual report on the aggregate value of user data they’ve collected, as well as contracts with third parties involving data collection.
  2. "Require commercial data operators to allow users to delete all, or individual fields, of data collected – and disclose to users all the ways in which their data is being used. including any uses not directly related to the online service for which the data was originally collected.
  3. "Empower the SEC to develop methodologies for calculating data value, while encouraging the agency to facilitate flexibility to enable businesses to adopt methodologies that reflect the different uses, sectors, and business models."
John Eggerton
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.