Happy Data Privacy Week and happy early Data Privacy Day! We’re glad to see organizations, companies, and nonprofits raising awareness about privacy concerns and considerations Americans face every day, and empowering individuals to make informed decisions about privacy.
Unfortunately though, another year has come and gone without any real movement towards a federal data privacy standard—leaving Americans without clear and consistent rules of the road and costing America’s small businesses millions in legal fees and compliance costs. Congress has obsessed over antitrust and other issues that Americans don’t want their lawmakers to focus on. What Americans care about and want our lawmakers to focus on is our data privacy and security issues online.
Tech regulation ranks near the bottom of voters’ concerns—only 1% of Americans say it’s the biggest issue facing the country today. And with COVID-19 in 2022 and rampant inflation, that makes sense.
When asked specifically about online and internet issues, our new polling was clear—Americans are concerned about cyber attacks, protecting kids online, and user privacy—not competition. In fact, 76% of Americans believe that when it comes to tech, the biggest policy priority should be their privacy and data security. Our polling also wasn’t alone in this regard. Other 2022 polling conducted by Morning Consult and Politico found that the majority of Americans regardless of political affiliation support a federal data privacy law.
Consumers have a variety of preferences regarding data privacy trade-offs and the current system provides them with an array of options depending on their preferences. In response to these consumer demands, many companies are offering options for greater user control over data and are helping consumers better understand their privacy options. Consumers can customize their privacy settings with easily accessible dashboards, privacy checkups to confirm users are satisfied with their current settings, and alerts educating users of what data an app is tracking. Companies like DuckDuckGo have made privacy their competitive edge by seeking to offer services to consumers who are more privacy sensitive.
When our policymakers consider what a federal data privacy standard should look like, they must be careful not to create a regulatory regime that would eliminate the beneficial applications of data and the choices that many consumers currently enjoy on and offline.
With each passing year, America needs a federal data privacy standard more. Without it, some states are attempting to fill this policy void and respond to voters’ concerns with their own laws. But furthering a messy patchwork of state laws will make matters worse, not better, as both innovators struggle to navigate sometimes conflicting laws and consumers are unclear on their rights. While these laws vary in how they burden innovation, the borderless nature of the internet means each state law will almost always exceed the state’s boundaries and place greater burdens on smaller players.
This situation will only get worse as an increasing number of state laws are likely to inevitably conflict with one another. That would make it impossible to offer the same product in all states and in turn would make it harder for small businesses to compete. America can easily look to Europe and see the nightmarish impact on small and midsize players that cumbersome data protection rules had.
Every year, data privacy week is a reminder to consumers to think about their privacy preferences when making decisions. And let it also be a cheeky reminder to check your settings and passwords on your various online accounts this January!