In an environment where personal data is currency and the most powerful companies are those that can gather, analyze, and monetize the most information, the individuals who own that data often are left out of the equation. A new bill introduced in the Senate would help address that imbalance by requiring companies to tell people exactly what the market value is of the personal data they collect from each individual.
The bill is the work of Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and it places a number of strict requirements on what it calls “data operators”, or companies that have more than 100 million active monthly users. That definition would include all of the major social media platforms, as well as companies such as Google. Under the requirements laid out in the bill, which is known as the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broader Oversight and Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act, data operators would have to provide individuals an accounting of what their personal data is worth at least every 90 days, and would also have to publish an annual report that lays out the aggregate economic value of all of the data they collect.
Introduced in the Senate on June 24, the act would require that data operators “provide each user of the commercial data operator with an assessment of the economic value that the commercial data operator places on the data of that user; and in a clear and conspicuous manner”. The DASHBOARD Act also would force data operators to clearly identify to each user what types of data will be collected--whether it’s by the company itself or a partner--and what that data will be used for, if it’s not in direct relation to the company’s services.
The concept of forcing large companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google to show their cards and actually tell people what their personal data is worth to the company is a novel one. Most users of those companies’ services likely have little if any idea of how much data is collected by them, let alone what the monetary value of that information is. But those companies most certainly do, as their business models depend upon it.
“For years, social media companies have told consumers that their products are free to the user. But that’s not true – you are paying with your data."
“For years, social media companies have told consumers that their products are free to the user. But that’s not true – you are paying with your data instead of your wallet,” said Warner. “But the overall lack of transparency and disclosure in this market have made it impossible for users to know what they’re giving up, who else their data is being shared with, or what it’s worth to the platform.”
The new bill also includes a section that would require data operators to give customers a simple mechanism to delete any or all of their personal data held by the company. Specifically, the data operators would have to “provide a user of the commercial data operator with the ability to delete all data, in the aggregate and for an individual field, that the commercial data operator possesses, or maintains control or access to with respect to the user.”
The DASHBOARD Act comes just a month after Warner and Hawley introduced the Do Not Track Act, a bill that attempts to address the online surveillance problem by requiring website owners to give users a way to opt out of all online tracking and block sites from collecting any data beyond what’s actually necessary for delivering their services. That mechanism would likely take the form of a browser extension and/or mobile app that would send a signal to site owners about the user’s data collection and tracking preferences. Like the Do Not Track Act, Warner and Hawley’s new bill makes the Federal Trade Commission the enforcement agency. But in the DASHBOARD Act, there is also a provision that gives the Securities and Exchange Commission the authority to create a model for valuing users’ data.