Internet privacy is a pressing concern in 2020. Tech giants like Google and Facebook made multi-million dollar settlements concerning data privacy in the past year, while the latter was also forced to make a $5 billion settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as part of a privacy scandal involving the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
Both Facebook and Google, among other companies, utilize trackers to maintain records of individuals’ search history. This information is largely used for targeted advertising purposes, but it can also be exploited by cyber criminals to conduct illegal activity. The Mind Your Own Business Act of 2019 is a privacy bill that intends to enhance user security online and levy harsh fines—and even jail time—against companies in violation of the Act.
First Proposed in November 2018
The Mind Your Own Business Act of 2019 was first released on November 1, 2018 as a discussion draft known as the Consumer Data Protection Act. It was developed by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and was one of many federal proposals to protect individuals’ online privacy following the enactment of the California Consumer Privacy Act and the European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulation. However, it differed from other proposals in that it didn’t call for preempting inconsistent state laws.
The bill was officially introduced in the Senate on October 17, 2019. In order to become law, it first needs to be passed by the committee it is assigned to, the Senate, and the House of Representatives before being signed by the president. If signed into law in its present form, the bill would force affected companies to adhere to stringent privacy measures and face harsh penalties if in violation of those measures. The bill only applies to “covered entities” subject to Section 5 of the FTC Act that store the personal information of more than 1 million consumers or devices and have gross annual receipts beyond $50 million. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter all qualify under those considerations.
Increased FTC Authority
One of the main components of the bill is its granting of increased authority to the FTC to regulate how companies track and store personal data. Among other measures, the bill would force these covered entities to:
- implement cyber security policies to protect personal information.
- share with customers a list of the companies and individuals with whom they have shared their data.
- conduct impact assessments of machine learning techniques and AI that pose threats to the security of users’ personal information.
Moreover, companies would be required to detail their compliance with the proposed regulations in an annual data protection report submitted to the FTC.
“Do Not Track” Website
Another component of the bill would be the establishment of a “Do Not Track” website similar to the “Do Not Call” telemarketer list. Through this website, consumers will have the ability to prevent covered entities from sharing their personal information with third parties. This one-click solution would mark an end to targeted ads for those who opt out of data sharing.
In addition to the Do Not Track website, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook would have to offer “privacy-protecting” versions of their respective platforms for a fee. Measures would also be implemented so that people with low incomes could qualify for free access to these enhanced-privacy platforms via the FTC’s Lifeline program.
Penalties and Fines
Covered entities in violation of the Mind Your Own Business Act of 2019 could face FTC fines of as much as 4 percent of their annual revenues. They could also be subjected to tax penalties tied to executive salary. The biggest deterrent against these companies defying the measures laid out in the bill is a jail sentence of up to 20 years for executives who lie to authorities about their use of Americans’ personal information.
Connection to Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Settlement
It’s no coincidence that Sen. Wyden introduced the bill on October 17. That same day, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was scheduled to appear at Georgetown University for a speaking engagement on freedom of expression. Sen. Wyden, who has been a vocal critic of Zuckerberg and Facebook, said the social media company’s $5 billion FTC settlement was too weak and told CNN that the executive needs to face harsher penalties: “A slap on the wrist from the FTC won’t do the job, so under my bill he’d face jail time for lying to the government.”
Facebook, which reported $55.8 billion in revenue in 2018, was previously under FTC investigation over allegations that it shared the personal information of 87 million users with the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica.
Sen. Wyden hasn’t been the only critic of the $5 billion FTC settlement. In July 2019, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said the company should have been fined $50 billion. Despite the scandal, Facebook exceeded earnings estimates in the first two quarters of 2019.