Washington Privacy Proposal Draws Praise From Some Advocates, Criticism From Advertisers

Efforts to pass federal privacy legislation are moving slowly on Capitol Hill, but state lawmakers appear willing and able to pick up the slack.

This week, Washington officials unveiled a bill (SB 6281) that would give consumers new privacy rights, including the right to opt out of targeted advertising. The measure -- explored at Wednesday hearing of the state Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee -- would specifically give consumers the right to access, delete and correct data about themselves, as well the right to prevent the use of their data for targeted ads or profiling.

The proposed bill also would explicitly prohibit companies from charging different fees, or providing different levels of service, to consumers who don't want their data stored or used by companies.



The new proposal comes just two weeks after the sweeping California Consumer Privacy Act came into effect. That bill also allows consumers to learn what personal information about them is held by businesses, request the deletion of that data, and opt out of its sale or transfer.

California isn't the only other state to tackle privacy. A bill in Maine, set to take effect in July, will require Internet service providers to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before drawing on their web activity for ad targeting. And a new measure in Nevada now requires website operators to allow consumers to opt out of the sale of information traditionally considered “personally identifiable” -- like names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers.

The proposed law in Washington is similar to one that was introduced in the state last year, and passed overwhelmingly by the state Senate, but ultimately stalled in the House. That prior proposal was criticized by some consumer advocacy groups on the grounds that it had too many loopholes. The Association of National Advertisers also opposed the bill, contending that privacy legislation should be nationwide, not state-by-state.

This year's bill appears to be meeting with a more favorable reception by some privacy advocates -- though not the ad industry.

Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy and technology policy at advocacy group Consumer Reports, testified this week that the new proposed bill marks an improvement over last year's because it more clearly spells out consumers' rights.

On the other hand, Dan Jaffe, executive vice president for government relations at the ANA, says the measure has some troubling provisions, including the one that bans companies from treating customers differently based on whether they allow their data to be used.

He says that “absolute” prohibition on differential treatment “is very problematic,” because it will prevent companies from instituting loyalty or rewards programs.

Jaffe adds that inconsistencies between the proposed bill in Washington and laws in California, Nevada and other states increase the likelihood of fragmentation.

“States do not seem, at least as of now, to come up with any sort of unified approach,” he says, adding that variations in the law can pose problems for advertisers. “Keeping up with all this is -- if not impossible -- very, very difficult.”

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