Protecting Your Privacy: What's Being Done to Update Data Privacy Laws in PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - We use our phones and devices to connect, communicate, shop, work, and so much more. As we use our devices, companies are using our activity and data to make a major profit.
It may surprise you just how much big tech companies know about you based off of your activity on devices. For decades, big tech companies have been harvesting and profiting from consumer data, but now it's becoming more evident than ever before and lawmakers are starting to catch up.
"In terms of the digital economy, data privacy today is really the Wild West,” said State Representative Rob Mercuri (R-Allegheny). “Those big tech firms can take that data, they can package it, they can sell it and they can use it to deliver ads to you that they make money off of,” Mercuri added.
Targeted ads, sometimes so personal or specific, that consumers are asking just how much does big tech really know? And what's being done to protect your privacy from companies who have been collecting your data for decades?
“People are becoming more aware of them and people are becoming more frustrated by them,” said Justin Brookman, the Technology Policy Director for Consumer Reports, a nonprofit member organization that works with consumers to find truth and transparency in the marketplace. “The best time to pass privacy legislation was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now,” added Brookman.
Brookman says tech companies establish a digital profile for consumers, which collects data from sites, apps and more.
“If you go to a website, your data is generally being shared or sold to usually Google and often Facebook and often dozens of other companies,” said Brookman.
He says big tech is growing smarter and that they're increasingly able to link your activity from multiple devices like a work computer, personal laptop and your phone, all to your digital profile. Companies then bid to show you ads each time you visit a site based on your unique digital profile.
"So, every time you go to a website, there's this constant auctioning going on about companies trying to bid to show you ads,” said Brookman.
When asked how these big tech companies are able to get away with that collection of personal data, Brookman’s answer was simple.
“There's no law stopping it, and so therefore they can do whatever they want generally,” said Brookman.
Little to no action from Congress is prompting states to take matters into their own hands. Currently in Pennsylvania, there are no laws to protect or inform consumers as to where or how their data is being used and sold. Some lawmakers are trying to change that.
“You know, the legacy laws that are in place in Pennsylvania to protect consumers are more or less built around the old, pre-digital economy,” said Mercuri, who is looking to give the laws an update.
He's the sponsor of House Bill 2202, data privacy legislation that would require big tech to share more information with consumers, while also giving them a choice.
“This bill would require that companies who collect data, or who aggregate it and sell it, are informing customers and giving them a chance to either opt-in or opt-out of that data collection,” said Mercuri.
Under Mercuri’s bill, big tech would have to inform consumers if their data is being processed, used for targeted advertisements or for the sale of personal information. He says giving consumers more transparency is a necessity.
“The key to their business really is consumer trust. Consumers have to be in the driver's seat,” said Mercuri.
Mercuri’s bill was heard in the House Consumer Affairs Committee last month. It's still unclear when it might make it to the House floor for a vote, but when it does, Pennsylvania will be one step closer to protecting your privacy.