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Senators roll out bipartisan data privacy bill

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The bill comes as more states pass their own rules

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar is back with a bill to protect consumer data privacy when collected by large tech platforms like Facebook and Google.

Klobuchar (D-MN) has teamed up with a bipartisan group of senators, including Sens. John Kennedy (R-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Richard Burr (R-NC), to reintroduce the Social Media Privacy Protection and Consumer Rights Act. The privacy legislation would force websites to grant users greater control over their data and allow them to opt out of data tracking and collection.

“For too long companies have profited off of Americans’ online data while consumers have been left in the dark,” Klobuchar said in a statement to The Verge. “This legislation will protect and empower consumers by allowing them to make choices about how companies use their data and inform them of how they can protect personal information.”

The bill would also require platforms to write their terms of service agreements in plain language so users understand what they’re accepting by using the platforms. If a website were to suffer a data breach, it would have to notify users within 72 hours of it occurring.

“In today’s world, ownership and agency over one’s internet data is essential in protecting users’ privacy online,” Burr said. “This bipartisan legislation is a commonsense step in granting individuals a greater ownership over the type of information companies may collect on them.”

Klobuchar first introduced the bill in 2019 after Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. At the time, the bill stalled without support from the Republican majority — but now that Democrats control Congress, it has a new chance to move forward.

In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission announced a $5 billion settlement with Facebook after a yearslong investigation into the scandal. As part of the settlement, the company is required to conduct quarterly privacy reviews and obtain purpose and use certifications from third-party developers that want to use Facebook data.

Another force working in the bill’s favor are the dozens of state-level privacy bills that have taken effect since the bill was first introduced, including the California Consumer Privacy Act, or CCPA. Companies like Microsoft have vowed to honor the CCPA in states outside of California, but the sheer volume of overlapping statutes has created a growing desire for a federal privacy framework that would make corporate compliance simpler.

The tech companies are pushing for federal rules as well. Last July, Facebook published a white paper calling current US privacy laws “insufficient” and called on the federal government to develop a national framework. The company revamped that call this March after Virginia passed its own protections through the Consumer Data Protection Act.

“We welcome the CDPA and hope that it, as well as legislative proposals in other states, will serve as an impetus for Congress to pass a comprehensive federal privacy law this year,” Facebook wrote in a March blog.