Dan Goldstein, a former attorney who is now president and owner of Page 1 Solutions, a digital marketing agency, has stated publicly that he advocates a single data privacy law rather than “a patchwork of different regulations adopted by each state. The risk to businesses and consumers is that some legislation or regulation may be so restrictive that it harms both consumers and tech companies.”
On the other hand, things that are good for certain sectors of the economy are not necessarily good for all, Dr. Hartzog said.
“A mind-reading machine would be a helluva marketing tool, but few would agree it would be desirable,” he told The Forecast. “It’s important to search for solutions that let us use data while keeping in mind that the ‘innovation-at-all-costs’ mantra could mean just that: ‘at all costs’ isn’t necessarily a net positive.”
Will privacy regulation take a bite out of businesses’ efforts to use consumer information for innovation, safety and well-being? It’s hard to know, because these are early days in attempting to balance consumer protection with all the good that modern digital technology has the potential to deliver. Meanwhile, people are fickle about their privacy.
“If you’re online, you’ve pretty much given up your privacy,” said Ayanna Howard, a roboticist and chair for interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Howard frequently runs up against bias both for and against automation and artificial intelligence (AI), tools that enable the analytics that allow companies to learn all about consumers.
“If you use a free service, you’re exchanging your dollar for your privacy,” she told The Forecast. “If Facebook started charging $19.99 a month, I don’t know how many people would willingly say: OK, we do want our privacy, but we’re not willing to pay to ensure it.”
By using free sites such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn, Howard said, “we’re paying for these services—but we’re paying with our data instead of our dollars and cents.”
On the Front Burner
Privacy and security continue to be major issues for Americans, according to a National Telecommunications Information and Administration (NTIA) survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau released in August 2018. Nearly three-quarters of Internet-using households had significant concerns about online privacy and security risks, while a third said these worries caused them to hold back from some online activities. About 20% said they had experienced an online security breach, identity theft, or a similar crime during the past year.
How likely are consumers to give up their online life to solve the problem? Not very, indicates Howard.
How likely are we to see a federal data privacy law in the U.S. this year? If states pass bills that federal legislators agree are good working models, “a federal law might not be so urgent,” said Dr. Hartzog.
Then again, he said, if a state were to pass a very strict privacy law mandating something extreme, like prohibiting any collection of user data, “there might more haste for a federal law,” he said.
Joanie Wexler is a contributing writer and editor with more than 20 years experience covering IT and computer networking technologies.
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