North Dakota's Proposed Opt-In Privacy Law Needs Overhaul, Ad Industry Argues

The ad industry is urging North Dakota lawmakers to significantly revise a proposed privacy law that would require companies to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before selling a host of data -- including their screen names, purchase histories, interests, internet browsing histories and media usage.

The measure (HB 1330), introduced earlier this month, allows consumers to sue violators for up to $100,000, and also authorizes class-action lawsuits.

“North Dakota should not adopt a one-size fits all consent requirement for the sale of protected data,” the Association of National Advertisers, American Association of Advertising Agencies, Interactive Advertising Bureau, Network Advertising Initiative and American Advertising Federation say in a letter sent Monday to state lawmakers. “Such an approach would create the most restrictive privacy law in the United States, thereby hindering legitimate business, particularly small businesses and harming North Dakotan consumers.”

The organizations are seeking at least two changes to the proposed law -- they say it should be revised to create an opt-out system, and that it should not empower consumers to bring private lawsuits.

“We strongly believe the legislature should amend HB 1330 to enable consumers to opt-out of protected data sales rather than require them to opt-in to such sales,” the groups write. “This amendment would align HB 1330 with the prevailing approach taken in other state privacy laws as well as industry self-regulatory programs and codes of conduct, such as those administered by the Digital Advertising Alliance.”

The industry groups add that allowing consumers to sue over violations would “flood North Dakota courts with frivolous lawsuits driven by opportunistic trial lawyers searching for technical violations, rather than focusing on actual consumer harm.”

The North Dakota privacy proposal comes as other states are either considering new laws or have recently passed them.

California's current privacy law, which took effect last year, gives consumers the right to learn what personal information about them is held by businesses, request deletion of that information, and opt out of its sale. 

In November, state residents voted to expand that measure by in several ways, including by requiring companies to obtain people's opt-in consent before using or disclosing “sensitive” information.

In Maine, a privacy law passed in 2018 prohibits broadband carriers from using or disclosing data about people's web use without their explicit consent.

That measure only applies to companies that offer broadband access, like Comcast and AT&T, as opposed to search engines, social networking platform and other so-called “edge” providers.

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