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A new bill would make online sellers and app stores post their products’ origin countries

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FaceApp

Florida Senator Rick Scott has introduced a bill that would make online retailers — including app stores — prominently list every product’s country of origin. According to Scott, it’s partly addressing recent privacy controversy over the Russia-based photo app FaceApp. It’s also supposed to push consumers away from certain foreign goods. “There are nations around the world, like China, that are trying to compete with America,” said Scott in a statement. “By buying products made by our adversaries, we are sending them money without a second thought.”

The Promoting Responsibility in Markets and E-Retailers Act of 2019, abbreviated as the PRIME Act, would apply to “any internet website or other online platform through which products are sold.” (The name suggests it’s particularly aimed at Amazon.) Whenever these sites sell a product, the seller would have to provide details about the country of origin, and the retailer would have to list that country “in a conspicuous manner and in the same language that is used on the rest of the platform.”

One section is specifically targeted at app stores, which would have to provide a little bit more information. They’d be required to list the nationality of an app’s developer, the nationality of its publisher, and the nationality of any parent companies. This information would be self-reported, but regulators could punish app makers who provide false records.

Except for that app store policy, the PRIME Act extends existing customs rules about marking a product’s country of origin. An offline buyer can presumably find a “Made in China” sticker or label on a product, but right now, an online buyer might not. The Federal Trade Commission would have authority to punish offenders, and if it’s passed, the bill would go into effect after six months.

The existing system isn’t foolproof. Companies have fraudulently labeled their products as “Made in the USA,” and products often pass through many countries as they’re assembled. And the biggest problem with FaceApp isn’t its Russian origin; many people are more worried about its vague privacy policy or the prospect of photos getting stored remotely. Where companies store data is important, especially if that data includes details about users’ health, sexuality, or other sensitive information. But that’s not covered under this bill. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see a bill effectively treat apps the same way as physical products — and it speaks to a growing concern over data collection and digital security.