Bipartisan senators to introduce bill forcing online platforms to disclose value of user data

Bipartisan senators to introduce bill forcing online platforms to disclose value of user data
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan pair of senators on Monday will introduce a bill that would force social media companies to disclose the value of the data they collect from users, an attempt to shed light on how much the companies gain from monetizing their customers. 

Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Microsoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Google sparks new privacy fears over health care data MORE (D-Va.) and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition GOP senator wants to know whistleblower identity if there's an impeachment trial Hillicon Valley: California AG reveals Facebook investigation | McConnell criticizes Twitter's political ad ban | Lawmakers raise concerns over Google takeover of Fitbit | Dem pushes FCC to secure 5G networks MORE (R-Mo.), two of the upper chamber's most vocal tech critics, unveiled the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data Act on Sunday night. 

“For years, social media companies have told consumers that their products are free to the user," Warner said in a statement. "But that’s not true — you are paying with your data instead of your wallet."

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"But the overall lack of transparency and disclosure in this market have made it impossible for users to know what they’re giving up, who else their data is being shared with, or what it’s worth to the platform," he added. 

The bill, reported first by Axios, would force top companies like Facebook and Google to regularly tell their users how much their data is worth, compile annual reports on the "aggregate value" of user data they collect, and tell users what they're doing with the data they collect. The bill would also require companies to offer users the option to delete all or some of their data.  

It would only apply to online services with 100 million monthly active users, targeting the top tech outlets rather than smaller services.  

It would also empower the Securities and Exchange Commission to figure out the best ways to calculate the value of data. 

Most top social media companies — such as Facebook — make the majority of their money through the collection of user data, which they use to target advertisements. The bill would force the companies to offer more information on how much that data is worth and what they gain from collecting it. 

"Tech companies can sell our information to the highest bidder and use it to target us with creepy ads," Hawley said in a statement. "Even worse, tech companies do their best to hide how much consumer data is worth and to whom it is sold."

The legislation comes as bipartisan groups in both chambers work to craft the nation's first comprehensive data privacy legislation.

"We look forward to continuing our ongoing conversations with the bill’s sponsors," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. 

Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day A book can explain why Elizabeth Warren's ideas bother billionaires so much Facebook says it removed millions of posts over hate speech, child exploitation violations MORE and other company executives this year have called for more government regulation of the internet, signaling that the company will seek a seat at the table as policymakers around the world work up legislation on issues like data privacy and content moderation.

Zuckerberg in a March op-ed called for a "globally harmonized" framework on data privacy and protection.