Apple CEO And Privacy Groups Call For Limits On Data Collection

As federal lawmakers gear up to tackle online privacy, a host of industry groups, tech companies and consumer advocates are weighing in with suggestions.

The ad industry has voiced support for the idea that laws should align with current self-regulatory standards -- which call for companies to notify consumers about data collection across multiple sites and apps, and to allow consumers to opt out of receiving ads targeted based on "non-sensitive" data.

Advertising and business groups also are pushing to preempt state laws, like the new measure in California that allows consumers to access data about them and opt out of the sale of that information.

But privacy advocates are pushing for tougher laws. Today, 16 advocacy groups -- including Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Public Citizen -- proposed that companies should be required to minimize the data they collect and allow consumers to access their data about themselves.

The organizations also say Congress should prevent “manipulative marketing practices” and should tackle the way companies use algorithms. “Concerns about the fairness of automated decision-making are mounting as artificial intelligence is used to determine eligibility for jobs, housing, credit, insurance, and other life necessities. Bias and discrimination are often embedded in these systems yet there is no accountability for their impact,” the groups write. “All individuals should have the right to know the basis of an automated decision that concerns them.”

The advocacy groups also propose that Congress create a new agency to focus on privacy, and that federal lawmakers should continue to allow states to experiment with their own laws. “U.S. privacy laws typically establish a floor and not a ceiling so that states can afford protections they deem appropriate for their citizens and be 'laboratories of democracy,' innovating protections to keep up with rapidly changing technology,” the organizations write.

Apple CEO Tim Cook also chimed in today with a privacy proposal similar to the one proposed by the advocacy groups. He, too, says companies should minimize the personal data they collect, and allow customers to access data about themselves.

Cook also takes aim at companies that trade data about people's purchases, arguing that consumers should be able to learn how their data is “bundled and sold” and that they should be able to “delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all.”

“You might have bought a product from an online retailer -- something most of us have done,” Cook writes today in Time. “But what the retailer doesn’t tell you is that it then turned around and sold or transferred information about your purchase to a 'data broker' -- a company that exists purely to collect your information, package it and sell it to yet another buyer. The trail disappears before you even know there is a trail.”

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