CA Lawmaker Seeking to Establish Country’s First Tech Regulatory Agency to Police Facebook

Zuckerberg repeated that Facebook had changed the rules so no such data breach could happen again.
AFP

A California Assemblyman from the Bay Area is pushing a bill that would create the “first regulatory agency for Big Tech in the nation” to protect Californians’ personal data, including social security numbers, financial data, and medical information.

Marc Levine, a Bay Area Democrat who pointed out that he introduced the bill (AB2182) before the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data-breach scandal, said on Sunday that the “need for reasonable regulations to protect our data is as urgent as ever.”

In a recent San Francisco Chronicle column, Levine argued that California is in an “ideal position to demand similar commonsense privacy rights for our residents” as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations because “no one in their right mind would walk away from California’s giant economy.”

“AB2182 establishes the California Data Protection Authority, answerable to the Legislature and ultimately to the people of California. It will be tasked with the critical mission of protecting the personal information of California residents by holding Big Tech accountable to the law by way of reasonable regulations,” Levine wrote. “The expertise developed in the data protection authority will ensure that our regulations evolve in parallel with the inevitable advancements in data collection and analysis.”

If California establishes the Big Tech regulatory agency, “it’s conceivable that any rules it imposes could set data-privacy policy for the rest of the nation” since “it’s difficult for companies to quickly ascertain whether any one particular piece of data comes from California or someplace else,” according to Quartz. New York Law School’s Ari Waldman told the outlet that tech companies will likely adopt nationwide standards just to comply with California’s law.

Some of the regulated data would include “people’s names, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, financial account data, medical data, and email addresses,” and the agency would have the power to enact data-privacy regulations, according to Quartz, that would include:

  • Creating a standardized online user agreement aimed at helping people clearly understand what permissions they are giving to a company regarding the use and dissemination of their personal information.
  • Establishing rules around how a person’s information will be removed from a company’s database if the person chooses to stop being a customer.
  • Adopting regulations to prohibit tech companies from conducting potentially harmful experiments on non-consenting users.

As Quartz noted, “because internet technology has developed faster than state and federal privacy laws, Silicon Valley companies have for years been in charge of how the data they collect from their customers is used. Anyone browsing the web, performing a search on Google, or logging into Facebook operates on blind faith that the companies behind the technology will protect their private data and use it appropriately.”

“I think a lot of people, including lawmakers, are dazzled by the industry leaders of Big Tech,” Levine told Quartz. “If you’ve ever seen someone take a tour of the Googleplex or the Facebook office, it’s like it’s a Disneyland, a place of wonder. We need to dispel that in Sacramento.”

The current version of the bill, though, does not give the regulatory agency enforcement powers, and, as Quartz points out, the bill still has not been approved by a state assembly committee. It has reportedly been “referred to the committee on privacy and consumer protection but has yet to be formally debated.”

Levine’s bill could get momentum in the coming months as more politicians from both sides of the aisle are putting tech companies like Facebook under intense scrutiny.  The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly investigating Facebook. Last week, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said that Facebook has become so powerful that is more like its own “country.” And Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have called on Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress.

According to a CNN report, Zuckerberg has reportedly “come to terms with the fact that he will have to testify before Congress within a matter of weeks, and Facebook is currently planning the strategy for his testimony.”

Facebook competitor Apple, which does not need to sell data to advertisers, also piled on over the weekend when Apple CEO Tim Cook said that “well-crafted” legislation to police the way tech companies handle user data is needed.

“The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life — from my own point of view, it shouldn’t exist,” Cook reportedly said.

In two separate interviews last week, Zuckerberg said he was open to some regulations while adding that, like food safety laws that allow “a certain amount of dust that can get into the chicken,” there needs to be an understanding that Facebook will not be “able to fully solve every single issue” regarding “hate speech” and data privacy. Zuckerberg told CNN:

There is transparency regulation that I would love to see. If you look at how much regulation there is around advertising on TV and print it’s just not clear why there should be less on the internet. You should have the same level of transparency required. I don’t know if the bill is going to pass, I know a couple of senators are working really hard on this. But we’re committed and we’ve actually already started rolling out ad transparency tools that accomplish most of the things that are in the bills people are talking about today. This is an important thing. People should know who is buying the ads they see on facebook, and you should go to any page and see all the ads that people are running to different audiences.

Zuckerberg told Wired:

So my understanding with food safety is there’s a certain amount of dust that can get into the chicken as it’s going through the processing, and it’s not a large amount—it needs to be a very small amount—and I think there’s some understanding that you’re not going to be able to fully solve every single issue if you’re trying to feed hundreds of millions of people—or, in our case, build a community of 2 billion people—but that it should be a very high standard, and people should expect that we’re going to do a good job getting the hate speech out. And that, I think, is probably the right way to do it—to give companies the right flexibility in how to execute that.

Levine, the California lawmaker, told Quartz that politicians have to stop viewing tech leaders as “geeky college kids in garages” because they are some of the wealthiest people in history.

“These are the wealthiest, most profitable corporations in all of world history, since God created light,” Levine told Quartz. “For lawmakers, or even consumers of social media, to be hoodwinked into thinking that these are geeky college kids in garages, wearing hoodies and jamming on their keyboards writing code, is absolute garbage. These are the richest special interests ever and we have to get a handle on this.”

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