A new bipartisan bill would require social media companies to put a price on consumer data.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act on Monday.
“As user data increasingly represents one of the most valuable, albeit intangible, assets held by technology firms, shining light on how this data is collected, retained, monetized, and protected, is critical,” the senators said in a press release.
The bill would force big tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon to regularly tell consumers and regulators what data they are collecting, how that data is being used and how much the data is worth.
The rules would only apply to platforms with more than 100 million monthly users.
“For years, social media companies have told consumers that their products are free to the user. But that’s not true – you are paying with your data instead of your wallet,” said Warner in a statement.
The senators want the Securities and Exchange Commission to develop a formula for calculating the value of consumer data.
“The overall lack of transparency and disclosure in this market have made it impossible for users to know what they’re giving up, who else their data is being shared with, or what it’s worth to the platform. Our bipartisan bill will allow consumers to understand the true value of the data they are providing to the platforms, which will encourage competition and allow antitrust enforcers to identify potentially anticompetitive practices,” Warner said.
The proposal would also make the tech companies file an annual report on the value of user data collected and the contracts with third parties that involve data collection.
“When a big tech company says its product is free, consumers are the ones being sold. These 'free' products track everything we do so tech companies can sell our information to the highest bidder and use it to target us with creepy ads," said Hawley in a statement. "Even worse, tech companies do their best to hide how much consumer data is worth and to whom it is sold. This bipartisan legislation gives consumers control of their data and will show them how much these 'free' services actually cost."
The legislation also aims to give consumers more control of their data, by requiring services to give users a way to delete all or some of their data.
The bill comes at a time when big tech is under intensified scrutiny by the federal government. The House Judiciary Committee announced this month it is investigating whether companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon violate anti-trust laws.
“We look forward to continuing our ongoing conversations with the bill’s sponsors,” said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement to Yahoo Finance.
The Internet Association — a lobbying group whose members include Amazon, Facebook and Google — didn’t take a position on the DASHBOARD Act, but told Yahoo Finance data helps businesses provide consumers with better products and services.
“We are encouraged by policymaker interest in addressing consumer privacy and providing Americans with greater transparency and control over how their data is used and protected,” said Michael Beckerman, Internet Association President and CEO. “The internet industry supports a comprehensive, economy-wide federal privacy law that covers all companies - from social media sites to local grocery stores to data brokers - to give consumers the protections and rights they need to take full control of the data they provide to companies.”
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.