A bipartisan pair of lawmakers are pushing legislation that would effectively place a monetary value on the data some big tech companies collect on users.
Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Josh Hawley of Missouri will propose legislation Monday forcing Silicon Valley giants to tell users how they are monetizing personal data. Their bill would also require Facebook, Google and others to regularly disclose the ways consumers’ data is being used, as well as file an annual report on the total value.
“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,” Warner, a Democrat, said in a statement Sunday. “But the overall lack of transparency and disclosure in this market have made it impossible for users to know what they’re giving up.”
Hawley made similar comments. “These ‘free’ products track everything we do so tech companies can sell our information to the highest bidder and use it to target us with creepy ads,” the Missouri Republican said in a statement Monday. “Even worse, tech companies do their best to hide how much consumer data is worth.”
The proposal could help regulators as they determine the impact big tech has on competition, Hawley and Warner argue. The lack of transparency around such data collection practices is an impediment to the Federal Trade Commission as it seeks to crack down on tech companies, they say.
House Democrats, for their part, announced a plan on June 3 to review Facebook and Google to determine if the tech giants are stifling competition and harming consumers. It came two days after the Department of Justice floated a similar proposal.
An antitrust probe against big tech would be the first since the FTC conducted an investigation of Google but closed it in 2013 without taking action. The FTC and DOJ have discussed which agency would oversee a probe of the internet giant — the commission agreed to give DOJ officials jurisdiction, media reports show.
Regulators have struggled in the past to make a case against Google.
FTC staffers raised concerns in 2012 about Google’s so-called anti-competitive practices. The “evidence paints a complex portrait of a company working toward an overall goal of maintaining its market share by providing the best user experience, while simultaneously engaging in tactics that resulted in harm to many vertical competitors,” one 2012 FTC staff memo noted.
One tech analyst says the proposed legislation is a mixed bag. “That would be a novel market definition.” Thomas Struble told the Daily Caller News Foundation, noting the plan to place a monetary value on data. Any bill that allows consumers to make more informed decisions about the platforms they use has value.
But forcing companies to place value on every piece of data would grow bureaucracy two-fold, he said. The FTC and other agencies would have to determine how to calculate data, Struble said, adding. “What about people with tens of millions of followers? The value of their data would be more valuable. It would be difficult to determine.”
Industry insiders meanwhile are warm to the idea. “Data helps businesses – across all industries and of all sizes and business models – provide consumers with better products and services,” Internet Association President Michael Beckerman said in a press statement.
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