by Brandon Butler
NYT: Data collection should be opt-in on apps and websites, and laws are “urgently needed” 3/8/2021

The Editorial Board of The New York Times calls on Congress finally fix our consumer-hostile data collection practices:

All of this is why federal legislation is so urgently needed. That should include provisions making personal data collection available only with consumers’ prior consent. (Some data is needed to ensure products are working properly.) The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, for instance, may provide some guidance over how to empower users to halt the dissemination of their data. If American consumers want more targeted advertising, or wish to freely share other personal data, they can choose to do so, rather than trust that companies have their best interests in mind.

Lawmakers also ought to consider other consumer-focused measures, such as the right for people to easily request their data from companies and ask that personal information be deleted or not sold — similar to provisions in the California law. Allowing consumers to halt data collection from all companies at a point of entry to the internet, such as the browser, would limit annoying pop-ups and consent forms. Laws preventing websites from broadly disseminating personal consumer data to other websites also seem prudent.

While I appreciate the NYT for calling on Congress to act, I think the article does a bad job of addressing just how aggressively companies like Facebook and advertising networks build detailed profiles of individuals and how deeply they’re able to track those individuals’ real world movements — from the computer screen to the brick-and-mortar store. There also must be a right for consumers to be forgotten — shadow profiles and all — from an app or website, especially when an individual deletes their account. And the companies should be required to process a request to be forgotten via a simple, easily accessible form or email address. If the companies are allowed to create any friction in the request process, people will simply give up. Remember, it’s in the companies’ best interests to keep the data, so it must be in Congress’s best interests to give consumers back control of their data.