Tech Giants Pushing for More Favorable Federal Privacy Law

Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft and other tech companies are lobbying to begin work on a federal privacy law, with the goal of creating regulations that would favor them more than the strict law passed in June by California. The California law, a benchmark in the U.S., gives users the right to know what information tech companies are collecting and why, as well as with whom they’re sharing that data. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said its tech company members want to be “a constructive part of the process.”

The New York Times reports that the tech company efforts “could set up a big fight with consumer and privacy groups, especially as companies like Facebook face scrutiny for mishandling users’ personal data.” The tech companies also “depend on the collection and analysis of such data to help them target the online ads that generate the bulk of their revenue.”

“It’s clear that the strategy here is to neuter California for something much weaker on the federal level,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation legislative counsel Ernesto Falcon. “The companies are afraid of California because it sets the bar for other states.” Prior to passage of the California law, Facebook’s top lobbyist Joel Kaplan stated that, “the California proposal could spread to other states.”

Other tech company lobbyists worried the California law “would unleash a patchwork of state laws that would not only strap their businesses but become a regulatory headache.” The latest move indicates a softening of their adamant resistance. “There has been a complete shift on privacy,” said IBM vice president for government and regulatory affairs Chris Padilla. “There is now broad recognition that companies that were resistant to privacy rules can no longer just say no.”

In related news, Bloomberg reports that Airbnb and HomeAway are suing New York City “over a recently passed law that allows the collection of data on the websites’ hosts, claiming the ordinance violates users’ constitutional rights.” The new law “would require Airbnb and similar sites to share the names and addresses of their hosts with the city’s Office of Special Enforcement.” Lawmakers, however, “argue that short-term rentals, which can be more profitable than long-term leases, disrupt neighborhoods and drive up rents.”

“This law provides the city with the critical data it needs to preserve our housing stock, keep visitors safe and ensure residents feel secure in their homes and neighborhoods,” said the mayor’s special enforcement office executive director Christian Klossner. “The city will defend it.”

Airbnb head of global policy Chris Lehane countered that, “the New York City Council is a wholly owned subsidiary of the hotel industry, and they aren’t interested in working together.” Airbnb, which says it’s partnered successfully “with officials in France, Australia, China and India,” funded a civil rights lawsuit against the city, which led the city to sue Airbnb “to force compliance with a subpoena related to an investigation into an illegal hotel.”