After years of claiming they could self-regulate, the tech industry is suddenly receptive to the idea of federal privacy legislation. But don’t let this post-Cambridge Analytica “mea culpa” fool you into believing these companies have consumers’ best interests in mind. Far from it.
This seeming willingness to subject themselves to federal regulation is, in fact, an effort to enlist the Trump administration and Congress in companies’ efforts to weaken state-level consumer privacy protections.
The private sector knows this, and many companies are looking to put a stop to it. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently urged Congress to “adopt a federal privacy framework that preempts state law.” The Internet Association, which represents digital companies such as Amazon, Airbnb, Google, Microsoft, Lyft, Twitter and Uber, has similarly urged preemption of state laws. And recent reports suggest that other tech companies, including Facebook, IBM and Microsoft, are working with Trump administration officials behindthescenes to lobby Congress to do the same.
And some people seem to be falling for it. After all, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on consumer privacy protections last week that included many industry representatives but not one representative of consumer interests.
A federal law wiping out — otherwise known as preempting — state protections would be a bad deal for consumers. It would likely put existing consumer protections, many of which are state-led, on the chopping block and leave states bound by a federal law that could prevent additional consumer privacy protections from ever seeing the light of day. State regulators could lose the authority to sue or fine companies that violate their laws. And consumers may even be barred from taking companies to court.
Industry wrongly argues that federal preemption is needed to prevent a “patchwork” of regulation — that is, a situation where states augment federal standards with their own laws. If federal standards are strong and adapt to new threats, states may see no need to pass their own laws to supplement these standards. But preserving their ability to act if this is not the case can…