New York May Soon Give Online Users Unprecedented Privacy Rights

A new bill introduced last week in the New York State Senate would give New Yorkers stronger online privacy protection than residents of any other state—even California, which last year enacted a privacy bill so tough that a group of major online companies told Congress that they would back federal privacy legislation, as long as it wipes California’s law off the books, according to a Reuters report

But the New York bill authored by Long Island-based state senator Kevin Thomas would reportedly go beyond what even California requires. Among other new requirements, the bill would require platforms such as Google, Facebook and others to “to attain consent from consumers before they share and/or sell their information,” effectively putting those companies out of the data-sharing business.

The data business is a massive source of revenue for online companies. While Facebook, for example, denies that it “sells” user data, a study by Investopedia estimated that through advertising campaigns and other methods of exploiting user data in conjunction with third-party entities, Facebook could be making between $11.5 billion and $23 billion per year off of user data.

Unlike the California law, however, the proposed New York bill gives users the “right to sue companies directly over privacy violations, possibly setting up a barrage of individual lawsuits,” according to a report on the proposed legislation by Wired magazine

The New York bill also applies to any online company, while the California law exempts any company with less that $25 million annual gross revenue from its requirements, according to Wired.

But perhaps most importantly, the bill turns online companies—of any size—into “data fiduciaries,” meaning that any company that hoovers up user data must use that data in ways that benefit the user, before they use it to turn a profit for themselves.

Thomas told Wired that the “fiduciary” requirement was already striking fear into the online giants, and that he received a visit from a Facebook representative who told him so.

"Facebook was basically like, 'We can't comply with this. We'd have to shut Facebook down in New York,'" Thomas told Wired.

Facebook denied in a statement to Wired that it made that threat, but acknowledged that it objects to the bill’s requirement that companies “act in the best interests of the consumer." 

“Privacy legislation should provide consumers a clear set of rights that they can exercise, and this bill will need further work to do that," the Facebook statement said.

Photo By Gustavo Collins / Wikimedia Commons