“Free” services have dominated the internet for nearly two decades. “Free,” however, has come to mean that users trade certain data about themselves, often unknowingly, in exchange for using and receiving the benefits of the service. This exchange has led to staggering amounts of user data being collected by companies that can then violate their users’ privacy by using that data for any number of purposes, possibly with inadequate transparency and accountability.
While some privacy advocates have contested this arrangement for years, Congress has largely left it alone until the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal provided a vivid illustration of the negative consequences of these types of business practices. Both the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation have spurred Congress into action on privacy.
Calls for legislation in the U.S. often focus on limiting the amount and types of data collected and how the data may be managed by those companies. Thus, privacy legislation has the potential to disrupt existing online business models and incentivize creating new ones. Legislation could effectively outlaw certain sources of revenue, for example through outright bans on online behavioral advertising or by precluding companies from charging users for exercising their privacy rights. The effects of such legislation are unclear, though many online business models do not rely on the collection and exploitation of user data. These reforms and their implications, regardless of the shape they take, should be openly scrutinized to determine the best path forward.
Join our panel discussion as we explore how potential legislation could affect existing online business models, what other online business models could succeed, and whether legislation should prohibit certain business models completely. Reception to follow.
Senior Policy Counsel, New America's Open Technology Institute
Senior Research Analyst, Ranking Digital Rights
Senior Staff Attorney and Adams Chair for Internet Rights, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Policy Counsel, CCIA
Law Fellow, Georgetown Center on Privacy and Technology
General Counsel and Policy Advocate, DuckDuckGo
Policy Analyst, Center for Democracy & Technology