A new bill from Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) would give Americans the ability to easily block internet companies such as Google and Facebook from collecting any data beyond what is necessary for the specific online services offered.
Hawley, who has focused a considerable amount of attention on data collection in his first months as a lawmaker, wants to give individuals the ability to join a "Do Not Track" list with a single click in their browser’s settings. He says companies have gotten "incredibly rich" off collecting data from individuals who haven't consented.
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"Big tech companies collect incredible amounts of deeply personal, private data from people without giving them the option to meaningfully consent," Hawley said.
"They have gotten incredibly rich by employing creepy surveillance tactics on their users, but too often the extent of this data extraction is only known after a tech company irresponsibly handles the data and leaks it all over the internet," he said. "The American people didn't sign up for this, so I'm introducing this legislation to finally give them control over their personal information online."
Hawley's office says existing options given by companies to individuals who don't want to be tracked have proven inadequate. It points to Google's admission to Hawley that it tracks a user's location throughout the day even when "location history" is off, and to Facebook admitting it collects data on people who don't even have an account as reasons why additional safeguards are necessary.
It compares the proposed list to the existing "Do Not Call" list, which blocks companies from making marketing calls to members. It would prohibit companies from using data to profile anyone who activates the Do Not Track option and impose "strict penalties" on any company caught violating the terms.
The bill would also force them to disclose the option to users and ban them from discriminating against users who choose not to be tracked.
The legislative proposal was spurned by a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in March during which Hawley sparred with Google representatives over the company's tracking of unknowing individuals.
"You don’t allow consumers to stop your tracking of them," Hawley said at the hearing. "You tell them that you do, you would anticipate that they do, a consumer would have a reasonable expectation based on what you’ve told them that they’re not being tracked but in fact you’re still tracking it."
"Americans have not signed up for this," he said. "They think that the products that you're offering them are free—they’re not free. They think that they can opt out of the tracking that you’re performing—they can’t meaningfully opt out."
"For somebody who has two small kids at home, the idea that your company and others like it are sweeping up information to build a user profile on them that will track every step, every movement, and monetize that, and they can’t do anything about it, and I can’t do anything about it—that’s a big problem that this Congress needs to address."
Hawley's bill would cover all internet activity, and compliance would be mandatory.