Regulation would force tech companies offer “do not track” option

Author: CBS News
Photo via Consumer Reports

A U.S. senator is calling for strict new rules to limit Silicon Valley’s use of your personal data with the Consumer Data Protection Act, which would force companies to offer a “do not track” option. Any tech executives who mislead regulators could face prison time.

The proposal comes as the makers of the Weather Channel app, the world’s most popular app of its kind, are accused of marketing the locations of tens of millions of users without their knowledge, reports CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer is suing the Weather Company, makers of the app, alleging that it “deceptively” tracks users “locations throughout the day and night … even when users are not actively using it.” That information is then sold to third party companies who want to target potential customers.

IBM, which owns the Weather Company, said the charges are “without merit.” In a statement to CBS News, the company said it has “always been transparent with use of location data.”

IBM is just one of several major tech companies accused of collecting, sharing and profiting off not only sensitive personal data, but customer locations. T-Mobile is among the latest thought in a statement the company said they “will not tolerate any misuse” of their customers’ data.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon doesn’t believe big tech companies can be trusted to regulate themselves.

“They do it, they get caught, they apologize and it’s kind of wash, rinse and repeat,” Wyden said. “What we were told in 2018 is that they would stop selling location data to these shady data brokers, these middlemen, and now we’re seeing evidence that it is still happening.”

Wyden said it’s time for regulators to get tough. He said his bill would create “radical transparency.”

“The consumer would know who has their data and how it’s being used. Two, the consumer would be able to control their data. So we have a do not track feature … they can opt out or pay. And finally there have to be serious consequences,” Wyden said. “We’re never going to see changes unless we have a law with real teeth.”

Those consequences could include steep fines and up to 20 years in prison for top executives but not everyone is convinced there’s even a real issue. One man said he doesn’t have a problem with it personally unless it “gets to a point where they’re really invading my privacy.”

Wyden says it’s not just a consumer issue but a national security issue – if the precise locations of Secret Service agents, FBI agents, or really anybody with a sensitive job are known, it leaves people vulnerable.

“It is a prescription for a national security and personal safety nightmare,” he said.

The Weather Channel app is not directly associated with the Weather Channel on cable TV.

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