Technology

Don’t want your online data tracked? You could sign up for a list under Hawley’s bill

Missouri freshman senator questions Barr about Trump investigations, big tech, anti-trust concerns

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) questioned Trump's nominee for attorney general during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 15, 2019, opening by asking about the FBI's investigation into Trump.
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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) questioned Trump's nominee for attorney general during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 15, 2019, opening by asking about the FBI's investigation into Trump.

Internet companies would be restricted from collecting data on users who sign up for a national “do not track” list under a bill introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley Monday.

The Missouri Republican’s bill would establish a registry for Internet users who don’t want their data collected similar to the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry, which allows people to add their phone numbers to a list to prevent calls from telemarketers and to report unwanted solicitations.

Once a person signed up the anti-tracking registry under Hawley’s legislation, online companies would be prohibited from collecting data on the user beyond what is essential for their services. Internet companies would also be prohibited from building profiles on these users or sharing their data with other companies.

“Big tech companies collect incredible amounts of deeply personal, private data from people without giving them the option to meaningfully consent,” Hawley said in a statement.

“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. 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 legislation could be a massive hit to the information economy if it moves forward. Google, Facebook and other sites make the bulk of their revenue off of advertising that relies on user data to generate relevant ads.

Hawley introduced his bill ahead of Tuesday Senate Judiciary hearing on digital advertising and data privacy.

It’s the Missouri senator’s fourth bill to target the tech industry. Hawley has already introduced legislation to prevent data collection of users under the age of 13, ban “pay-to-win” apps that target children and to restrict tech exports to China.

Tech groups warned that the proposed restrictions would hamper startups and make it difficult for states to generate revenue without paywalls.

“By preventing the use of interest-based ads, this bill will result in more ads, more paywalls, and less content,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, a group that represents the tech industry.

“Sen. Hawley’s bill undermines small online businesses trying to compete with large incumbents by preventing them from making the most from their smaller user base.The bill most helps large businesses with trusted names while kneecapping future competitors.”

Hawley’s not the first lawmaker to propose “do not track” legislation.

Two New England Democrats, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, rolled out a similar bill in 2015 and the FTC floated the idea of a “do not track” program as far back as 2010.

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