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Privacy Legislation Might Have Stopped Facebook

In the aftermath of an extensive New York Times investigation into Facebook’s data privacy regulations and whether the company violated the privacy and public policy regulations of the Federal Trade Commission, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) said that it is time for her colleagues to step up.

During an NPR interview, Sen. Klobuchar talked about commonsense legislation that she and Sen. John Kennedy (La.) had introduced in April. Since then, however, "Congress has been paralyzed. Nothing has been happening. Whether it's because of lobbying, whether it's because of the complexity of this, we just have to put all that aside and move," she said. 

Three key parts of the legislation included using plain language so that it is clear a user is making a decision to share personal data; granting individuals greater control over their data by allowing them to opt out of any sharing arrangements; and mandating that users be notified of any privacy breach.

Yet the legislation never made it out of committee. “I think a lot of that has to do with the lobbying that goes on from the tech industry,” Klobuchar said. “And I believe that our colleagues in both the Commerce Committee, Judiciary and the Republican majority are going to have to step up.”

While some continue to debate whether Facebook violated the FTC agreement about not sharing personal data, Klobuchar said, “I don't quite understand how it couldn't have been violated.”

Facebook’s defense is that the partners with whom it shared information, including Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo, were extensions of the company, in which case Facebook was not required to obtain user consent in order to share information.

Not everyone agrees with that argument. “The only common theme is that they are partnerships that would benefit the company in terms of development or growth into an area that they otherwise could not get access to,” said Ashkan Soltani, former chief technologist at the FTC, told the New York Times.

Gaining access to user data via Facebook benefited more than 150 companies. Included among its largest partners were Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo, which reportedly said that they used the data appropriately. 

Collecting and sharing data among these tech giants has created what Klobuchar called a "monster." While there are benefits to technological innovations, they also come with a cost. Said Klobuchar, "It has created vulnerabilities for our democracy, vulnerabilities for cyber-attacks, vulnerabilities for stealing data and intruding on people's privacy."

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