WASHINGTON — Momentum is gaining in Washington for a privacy law that could sharply rein in the ability of the largest technology companies to collect and make money off people’s personal data.
A national law, the first of its kind in the U.S., could allow people to see or prohibit the use of their data. Companies would need permission to release such information. If it takes effect, a law would also likely shrink Big Tech’s profits from its lucrative business of making personal data available to advertisers so they can pinpoint specific consumers to target.
Behind the drive for a law is rising concern over the compromise of private data held by Facebook, Google and other tech giants that have earned riches by aggregating consumer information. The industry traditionally has been lightly regulated and has resisted closer oversight as a threat to its culture of free-wheeling innovation.
Support for a privacy law is part of a broader effort by regulators and lawmakers to lessen the domination of companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon. Some, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, have called for the tech giants to be split up.
The Trump White House has said in the past that it could endorse a broad data privacy law.
The big tech companies have been nervously eyeing a tough privacy law taking effect next year in California. That measure will allow Californians to see the personal data being collected on them and where it’s being distributed and to forbid the sale of it. With some exceptions, consumers could also request that their personal information be deleted entirely.
Whatever federal privacy law eventually emerges is expected to be less stringent than the California measure and to supersede it. As a result, the tech industry is trying to help shape any national restrictions.
“This is the first time ever that the industry wants legislation,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group. “The industry is terrified.”
On Tuesday, a House committee pressed Google and Facebook executives about another urgent concern involving Big Tech: Whether they’re doing enough to curb the spread of hate crimes and white nationalism through online platforms.