ICYMI: Remarks at Annual Phoenix Center Rooftop Policy Roundtable – Is Privacy Policy the Next Mattress Tag?

Last week, I joined a panel of colleagues from across the broadband industry to discuss the current issues around internet policy at the Phoenix Center’s 8th Annual Rooftop Policy Roundtable. We covered a range of topics including the confusing state of privacy protections for both users and companies, government-created distractions to rolling out more 5G faster in the US, and the regulatory hurdles that stand in the way of broadband deployment.

A key takeaway from the discussion is that following in the footsteps of the European General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) would not be the appropriate baseline for protecting privacy rights in the US. GDPR has demonstrated why it’s not the right model for solving privacy concerns: it’s complicated for both consumers and companies, making it cost prohibitive for many US businesses to continue to have a European presence.

The regulations have closed the European market to smaller firms and entrenched the larger internet companies that have the financial resources to comply with the convoluted regime. Furthermore, suggesting that US consumers have different rights to protect their privacy across multiple jurisdictions in the United States is also a misguided approach. If we do pass federal privacy legislation it needs to be clear and transparent for both businesses and consumers.

The conversation also made it clear that Congress needs to step in to create guidance for data retention and protection through federal legislation.  Companies need to know what to do and how to inform consumers about their rights and protections for the data they share with other companies.

The group concurred that companies collecting data need clear privacy policies for users. If a consumer understands what a business (usually one collecting data from a website,) will do with their data in exchange for their service, the consumer is then empowered to make the choice to use it or not. What we don’t need is something akin to the government’s mattress tag requirements – a bewildering agreement users blindly accept without understanding its purpose.

As my colleague Bret Swanson pointed out recently in his new paper, many industries in the U.S. actually suffer from a “lack of information intensity,” despite the rapid utilization of data within the internet economy other industries have yet to take full advantage. Data largely benefits the consumer and makes the online experience more enjoyable – it also makes platforms more efficient. As Bret points out, we should work toward policy that encourages the responsible use of data so that more industries and consumers can benefit as opposed to limiting its potential.