WASHINGTON, December 13, 2021 — An expert on a Broadband Breakfast panel said big tech’s business models infringe on consumer’s digital rights.
The world’s most powerful technology companies, including telecommunications providers, have “a lot of room” for improvement in protecting consumer privacy, said Jessica Dheere, director of New America’s Ranking Digital Rights program, said at the December 1 virtual event.
Dheere said accountability is an essential first step to mandating transparency about company policies to improve consumer privacy. Dheere’s remarks come as experts have recently called for the Federal Trade Commission to take action on internet service providers’ privacy practices.
The lack of progress by technology companies in data privacy is not exclusive to advertisement platforms. Dheere said telecommunications providers have a responsibility equal to ad platforms to protect their users’ privacy.
“Telecommunications providers have lots of data that ad companies don’t have: geographic location, billing information, credit history, and all sorts of things Facebook doesn’t have by default,” Dheere said.
When companies combine data sources across devices or through a third-party sale of consumer data, companies can create a “picture” of the person they target. “In some ways, telecommunications providers should maybe have stronger obligations,” she added.
To measure privacy, Dheere pointed to the Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index (RDR Index), which ranks the world’s most powerful technology companies and evaluates related policies against human rights-based standards. The RDR index uses guiding principles for human rights to evaluate companies’ privacy standards.
“Privacy is a fundamental human right, and enables the enjoinment of other rights, such as the first amendment freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly,” Dheere said.
To evaluate technology companies’ privacy standards, the RDR uses standardized indicators to produce a privacy score. The RDR index analyzes the clarity of privacy agreements; the companies’ privacy policies; whether they notify users of changes to policies; how they collect and handle user information; and whether users have control over how their information is used and sold. Within the past two years, no company has scored over sixty percent in the RDR’s privacy category.
“Looking at the indicators [the RDR index] uses, there is no distinction for what companies should do for their users,” Dheere stated. The RDR ranking system analyzes telecommunications companies network management standards. The Index analyzes factors such as whether the company is committed to net neutrality in their policies and how they operate in network shutdown events, which can be important in areas where the government manages shutdowns during cultural or political crisis.
Online Protections for Children Bill Passes Committee Despite Concern over FTC Authority
Opposition to a reformed COPPA include the ability of the FTC to enact broad rule-making.
WASHINGTON, July 28, 2022 – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved two online privacy protection bills in a Wednesday markup, including an update to legislation that will increase the age for online protection for children.
An update to the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy and Protection Act (S.1628) – which originally passed in 1998 but had amendments proposed last May – would see the age of protections increase from 13 to 15, meaning large internet companies will be prohibited from collecting the personal information of anyone under 16 without consent and ban targeted marketing to those children. The bill passed via voice vote.
Other provisions in the bill include a mandate to create an online “eraser button” that will allow users to eliminate personal information of a child or teen; implement a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors” that limits the collection of personal information from young users; and establish a first-of-its-kind Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the FTC,” according to a summary of the bill’s key components.
“The Senate Commerce Committee this morning took a historic step towards stopping Big Tech’s predatory behavior from harming kids every day,” Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass., who introduced the amendments, said Wednesday.
The other bill, the Kids Online Safety Act (S.3663), will give parents enhanced control over their children’s online activities to “better protect their health and well-being.” The bill, introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, and Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, passed 28-0.
The bill would put in place additional safeguards and tools, such as platforms giving minors options to protect their personal information and to disable recommendations.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a piece of legislation that has had such strong support across groups across the country” “Parents want a tool kit to protect their children online,” Senator Blumenthal said during Wednesday’s hearing.
The bills now move to the Senate floor.
Concern about FTC authority under new COPPA
Under COPPA 2.0, the FTC authority includes determining what are “unfair or deceptive acts” in marketing practices and enforcing violations. In May, the agency put out a policy statement specifying its focus on enforcing the existing version of the bill.
Some senators voted against passing COPPA 2.0 over concern that it would give the Federal Trade Commission too much rule-making authority.
Senator Blackburn said there should be more restrictions on the ability of the FTC to make rules so there wouldn’t be overreach.
Similarly, Senator Mike Lee, R-UT, said he was not able to support the bill during markup because he is concerned about “giving a blanket ruling power to the FTC.
“We are at our best when we carefully consider legislation and don’t rush through it,” Lee said.
Rep. Swalwell Says App Preference Bill Will Harm National Security
‘I just want to limit the ability for any bad actor to get into your device.’
July 27, 2022 – Antitrust legislation that would restrict the preferential treatment of certain apps on platforms would harm national security by making more visible apps from hostile nations, claimed Representative Eric Swalwell, D-Calif, at a Punchbowl News event Wednesday.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act is currently under review by the Senate and, if passed, would prohibit certain online platforms from unfairly preferencing products, limiting another business’ ability to operate on a platform, or discriminating against competing products and services.
The legislation would ban Apple and Google from preferencing their own first-party apps on their app stores, which would make it easier for apps disseminated from hostile nations to be seen on the online stores, Swalwell said.
“[Russia and China] could flood the app store with apps that can vacuum up consumer data and send it back to China,” said Swalwell, adding that disinformation regarding American elections would spread. “Until these security concerns are addressed, we should really pump the breaks on this.”
Swalwell asked for a hearing conducted by Judiciary Committee of the House with the National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Homeland Security officials to lay out what the bill would mean for national security.
“I just want to limit the ability for any bad actor to get into your device, whether you’re an individual or small business,” said Swalwell.
Lawmakers have become increasingly concerned about China’s access to American data through popular video-sharing apps, such as TikTok. Last month, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove the app on the grounds that the app’s parent company, ByteDance, is “beholden” to the Communist government in China and required to comply with “surveillance demands.”
The comments follow debate surrounding the bill, which was introduced to the Senate on May 2 by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on how it would affect small businesses and American competitiveness globally.
Government Should Incentivize Information Sharing for Ransomware Attacks, Experts Say
‘Information sharing between the government and the private sector, while integral to tackling ransomware, is inconsistent.’
WASHINGTON, July 27, 2022 – The federal government should incentivize the reporting of cyberattacks through safe harbor and shield laws, said experts at an Atlantic Council event Tuesday, as a recent law requiring companies in critical infrastructure sectors to report such attacks to the federal government is limited and currently unclear on who exactly it impacts.
The Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act passed in March does not cover private companies who do not operate in the critical infrastructure sectors and does not include safe harbor and shield laws that would encourage private companies to engage in the process.
Oftentimes, companies will avoid interacting with law enforcement to avoid the stigma associated with being a victim of a cyberattack and out of fear of being held liable by regulators and investors, said Trent Teyema, senior fellow at technology policy university collaborative GeoTech Center.
Teyema called for a safe harbor framework, a law that provides protection against legal liability when other conditions are met. Such a provision would decrease the risk of companies being held liable for cyberattacks from regulators, investors, and the public.
He also called for shield laws that would protect against revealing certain information to the government as a requirement for receiving law enforcement assistance.
The government needs to make it easy for the private sector to share information with law enforcement, said Teyema.
“Information sharing between the government and the private sector, while integral to tackling ransomware, is inconsistent,” read a report written by Teyema and David Bray, fellow at GeoTech Center. Information sharing across sectors allows cybersecurity experts in both sectors to learn about new vulnerabilities in software and new attack vectors. It strengthens collective resiliency and can influence the processes used to anticipate and respond to threats, continued the report.
Ransomware on the rise
Ransomware attacks in which bad actors demand money to release encrypted data are increasing dramatically, reported the White House last year. Ransomware incidents often disrupt critical services, such as banks, hospitals and schools that require constant access to data. In 2021, there was approximately $20 billion in damages from ransomware attacks in the United States, with $11 billion in 2020 and $5 billion the year before, said Bray.
This follows on the heels of the 2021 Colonial Pipeline hack that targeted the billing system and led to the shutdown of the largest fuel pipeline in the United States. The Russian-speaking cybercrime group responsible, DarkSide, received $4.4 million in ransom from Colonial, part of which was later recovered by the United States law enforcement.
Research firm Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that there will be a ransomware attack every two seconds by the year 2031 with global costs exceeding $265 billion.
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