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Sen. Josh Hawley proposes bill that would allow people to opt out of data tracking

Posted: 3:49 PM, May 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-21 17:06:48-04
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Sen. Josh Hawley on Tuesday introduced legislation that would give internet users the ability to opt out of allowing their personal data to be tracked and collected, the latest effort in the Missouri Republican's broader campaign against big tech.

Hawley's Do Not Track Act is modeled after the national Do Not Call list, which allows people to opt out of telemarketing calls.

Hawley's office says it would allow internet users to opt out of tracking by clicking a setting in their browsers or by downloading an app. Hawley said the measure is in response to big tech companies collecting "incredible amounts of deeply personal, private data from people without giving them the option to meaningfully consent."

"They have gotten incredibly rich by employing creepy surveillance tactics on their users, but too often the extent of this data extraction is only known after a tech company irresponsibly handles the data and leaks it all over the internet," Hawley said in a statement. "The American people didn't sign up for this, so I'm introducing this legislation to finally give them control over their personal information online."

The Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general would have the authority to enforce the legislation, and the bill would give the FTC the power to create related regulations.

Companies would face a minimum $100,000 fine or up to $1,000 per day per affected person for knowingly violating the rules. Negligent violations could be punished by as much as $50 per day per affected person.

The bill includes an exception for data collected to help law enforcement.

Electronic Privacy Information Center President Marc Rotenberg said voluntary opt-outs for internet tracking and data collection have not worked. He said enforcement is crucially important.

"The companies can ignore voluntary participation, and oftentimes it's the biggest offenders who will," Rotenberg said. "That's why I think legislation is necessary."

Rotenberg, who said the nonprofit center worked on the original Do Not Call legislation, cautioned that an opt-out program for internet tracking will be more challenging. He said while telephone numbers can easily be added to the do-not-call list, an internet program needs to cover email addresses and potential IP addresses.

The Internet Association, which counts Google, Facebook and Amazon among its members, did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday. The Association of National Advertisers didn't immediately comment.

As Missouri attorney general, Hawley launched an investigation of Google for potential violations of the state's consumer-protection and antitrust laws and demanded information from Facebook following allegations that the social media giant mishandled user data.