Opinion

Privacy Concerns Damage the Internet’s Vital Role for All Communities

Anyone who doubts the need for better federal rules to protect our online privacy has probably not paid attention to news headlines this month. A few weeks ago, The Associated Press broke a major story on privacy concerns headlined “Google tracks your movements, like it or not.” Working with computer scientists at Princeton, AP discovered that Google tracks Android and iPhone users “even when you explicitly tell it not to.”

A few days later, Google all but admitted that the report was true and that it did track people against their will.

A new report documents the astounding number of ways Google has been collecting information about your online activities. CNN reported, “Short of chucking your phone into the river … there’s not much you can do to keep Google from collecting data about you.”

According to Pew, with 95 percent of “English-speaking Asian Americans” using the internet regularly — the largest portion of any U.S. ethnic group — it is especially important for our community to have consistent, uniform federal rules protecting us from abusive practices that violate our privacy. Among the discoveries in the new report is that Google’s Chrome browser not only tracks your webpage visits and location, it also sends your data back to Google when you use Chrome to fill out an online form.

Over the years, several court cases and congressional hearings have highlighted the current lack of existing federal rules that protect the public’s privacy. To address this problem, Congress must write comprehensive, bipartisan legislation that will regulate companies based on the information they hold, not the business they’re in. Focused on transparency and consistency, an “Internet Bill of Rights” would guarantee privacy protections for digital consumers across the board and ensure these protections never waver.

The “transparency” aspect is especially important since many of today’s most egregious privacy violations involve companies acting behind consumers’ backs. Congress must enact legislation precisely because past regulations, many of which were written well before the internet appeared, do not fully address Americans’ concerns regarding data privacy and security. Shifting presidential administrations and federal agency leadership have led to numerous regulations, yet no permanent laws.

Notably, the uncertainty surrounding oversight of consumer internet privacy protections — with authority volleying from the Federal Trade Commission to the Federal Communications Commission and back in recent years — has led to states and localities considering a patchwork of unnecessary, and at times conflicting, rules and regulations for online data. But this is a poor solution, as it raises legal compliance costs that are passed on to consumers while doing nothing to solve the problem nationally.

Certainty and security online are also paramount to continued economic growth and innovation online. Asian-Americans would know. Our buying power has ballooned 257 percent since 2000, more than 2.5 times more than the total United States. We have emerged as cultural and economic trendsetters on the internet.

A single uniform consumer privacy protection law would finally help settle many of the misgivings consumers have about how their sensitive online lives are handled by the companies with which they interact. Such a law should be applicable to all internet platforms — including operating systems, ISPs, apps, and online advertisers — and contain data rules that apply to commercial businesses and government institutions alike. The law should guarantee transparency, openness, non-discrimination, and privacy protections for all internet users, no matter where they are or how they get online.

Such legislation would help restore all consumers’ confidence — not only in the security of their devices, but in their overall experience online.

There is no question that the internet has a dominating role in the Asian-American, and all other, communities. Congress should address today’s privacy problems head-on by passing a legislative solution codifying an internet bill of rights to help us feel safe online.

The time to act is now. Our communities are ready to have our voices be a vital part of conversations in D.C., just as they already are online.

Soo Kyung Koo is the executive director of the International Leadership Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes the civic engagement, leadership empowerment and economic prosperity of the Asian-Pacific American community.

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