The Most Important Federal Privacy Bill Is Finally Here

The DELETE Act could put an end to data brokers. Here’s why it won’t pass Congress.

Six days ago, Senators Bill Cassidy (R) and Jon Ossoff (D) introduced a Bill (‘SB’) 3627 which would stop data brokers from selling your information. They named the bill The Data Elimination and Limiting Extensive Tracking and Exchange Act, or in acronym form: The DELETE Act.

The DELETE Act would finally create a website where you remove yourself from all registered data brokers operating in the US–in just one request.

We estimate that The DELETE Act could save Americans a collective 12.9 billion hours opting out.

Despite the fact that both Democrats and Republicans agree that privacy legislation should be a high priority for Congress in 2022, The DELETE Act faces a steep uphill battle.

A Government-Run “Opt-Out Button”

The law would work by forcing all data brokers operating in the US to register with the Federal Government. California did nearly the same thing in 2020 with CCPA. You can check out the list of over 400 registered data brokers on the CA Attorney General Website. In California, every data broker must give you a way to opt-out. Each data broker provides different opt-out instructions.

“It’s hard to tell who’s selling what to whom.” In fact, it’s unknown exactly how many data brokers operate in the United States because so many keep a low profile. Credible estimates range from 2,500 to 4,000 Newsweek

The DELETE Act goes well beyond a simple data broker registry. It outlines an ambitious system where you can enter your information (just once) to opt out of all registered data brokers in the US. Sound familiar? It’s exactly what Atlas Privacy does.

The DELETE Act would essentially be a government-run version of privacy sites like Atlas. The advantage is that data brokers would be forced to comply with all opt-out requests or risk having the FTC come knocking on their door.

Data brokers would need to comply with opt-out requests within 30 days. The DELETE Act would even require regular third-party audits to ensure that the data brokers are deleting your information.

Today, only about 85 percent of all US data brokers (in our estimate) provide a way to opt-out of their services. Most data brokers started allowing for opt-outs after the FTC published a scathing report of data brokers in 2014, prompting many to believe that sweeping regulation was just around the corner. Unfortunately, federal regulation never came. Eight years have passed and data brokers are still buying and selling your information almost entirely unimpeded.

Where The DELETE Act Could Be Improved:

Is The DELETE Act the answer for all of our data broker woes? Unfortunately, no. Unlike the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), The DELETE Act stops short of demanding that data brokers disclose what information they have on you.

The CCPA outlines two major rights for all California consumers: 1) The right to be forgotten, and 2) the right to know. The DELETE Act essentially leaves out the second right. By doing so, it lets data brokers off the hook for all the crazy things they collect on you and me.

Without the ability to view your data, the proposed system would just send a blind request to the data brokers, without allowing consumers to see exactly what they’re opting out of. Sure, consumers could view general categories of information collected like “health metrics”, or “physical location”, but there’s something liberating about seeing exactly what these companies know about me.

The current process of requesting your information from data brokers is either clunky or non-existent. The largest data brokers like Acxiom and LexisNexis require ID verification before promising to send your file to you in the mail (yes, snail mail). Other companies like CoreLogic don’t allow you to request your data at all unless you’re a California resident.

Why The DELETE Act won’t pass:

https://morningconsult.com/2021/04/27/state-privacy-congress-priority-poll/

While 2021 national polls find that 86% of Democrats and 81% of Republicans believe Congress should make privacy a “top” or “important but lower” priority, we likely won’t see The DELETE Act pass even the Senate. There are rare moments when both sides of the aisle agree on an issue, and still fail to act. Let’s dig in.

The truth is that the data broker industry runs a massive lobbying organization in Washington. The Markup reported that collectively, data broker spending on lobbying in 2020 rivaled the spending of individual Big Teach firms like Facebook and Google, which are many times larger.

“All in all, we found 25 companies whose combined spending on federal lobbying totaled $29 million in 2020.”… For comparison, of the Big Tech firms with heavy lobbying presences, Facebook spent $19,680,000, Amazon $18,725,000, and Google $8,850,000 in the same period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — The Markup

The difficulty in tracking lobbying spending is that data brokers are usually one business inside much larger corporations that offer consulting, credit services, fraud detection, and even cloud computing. It’s difficult to untangle which dollars are spent towards lobbying against data broker regulation, versus dollars spent on other parts of their business.

https://themarkup.org/privacy/2021/04/01/the-little-known-data-broker-industry-is-spending-big-bucks-lobbying-congress#broker-big

Nevertheless, these companies have a large presence in Washington, especially when taken in aggregate. Big data brokers are averse to government intervention. They recite the typical gripes with regulation: it will run up expenses and slow down business. In reality, the data brokers’ biggest fear is that consumers uncover the true extent of their tracking.

Why we support The DELETE Act:

Although we don’t think The DELETE Act is likely to pass on the federal level due to excessive lobbying from the data broker industry, we do think it’s a step in the right direction. This law takes direct aim at a shady industry that profits off your private information.

It may seem counterintuitive for us to support The DELETE Act. This law would essentially create a free way to remove yourself from data brokers in one click. This would eliminate our business model, wouldn’t it? In theory, yes.

In practice, we’ve come to understand that privacy is a huge challenge. We’ll need help from both the private and public sectors to tackle this problem. We estimate that The DELETE Act could save Americans a collective 12.9 billion hours opting out.

Our company’s mission is to give everyone the power to access their data and control their privacy. We started removing people from data brokers because they’re some of the biggest privacy offenders; however, our company’s ambitions are much grander. By the end of this year, we hope to integrate with dozens of large technology companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, to allow you proactively control your privacy in one click. Our goal is to go way beyond data brokers and to help everyone control their privacy across the entire internet.

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