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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Just over a year ago, the notion of passing a consumer privacy law was laughable. Now the tech giants that once said rules would break their business now want Congress to draft bills.

Driving the news: Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Congress at a recent hearing that the search giant supports legislation, the latest tech executive to agree that a national privacy policy is needed. And Democrats now in charge of the House are itching to make good on their promise to slap some rules on Big Tech after a year of scandals.

The big picture: Tech giants have made their fortunes peddling users' personal data. A broader public recognition of how powerful their data is (and dangerous in the wrong hands), coupled with a growing distrust in social media and tech companies, have given policymakers more leverage to put in place new regulation — even in an administration focused on de-regulation.

The backstory: Early in the Trump administration, the Republican-controlled Congress overturned the FCC's privacy rules for internet service providers such as AT&T and Comcast. Trade groups for tech companies lobbied behind the scenes to undo the rules, even though the rules didn't apply to web platforms like Google and Facebook.

But that's when the momentum toward federal privacy rules really picked up. Here's how the narrative turned:

1. The data scandals started rolling in. The biggest was Facebook's Cambridge Analytica disaster, in which user data leaked to third-party developers. CEO Mark Zuckerberg was hauled before Congress to explain how it happened.

  • Last week, the Washington D.C. attorney general sued Facebook for being "fast and loose" with user data.
  • Google said this month it was shutting down its social network Google+ earlier than planned after a software bug exposed private profile data to app developers. It's closure was triggered by another security issue.
  • Also over the past year, a number of major companies, including Marriott and UnderArmor, have disclosed data breaches or hacks affecting 100 million customers or more.
  • Several media investigations — like the NYT's piece on apps tracking location data 24/7 — show how pervasive tracking is and how that information can be used.

2. Public perception turned. The percentage of Americans concerned that the government wouldn't do enough to regulate tech companies jumped to 55% in February of this year, according to an Axios-SurveyMonkey poll. (Still, most Americans said they largely think tech companies have had positive effects on society.)

3. In Europe, the strict General Data Protection Regulation took effect in May and represented a sea change in how companies notify consumers about their data collection practices.

  • That forced companies dealing in data — which is essentially all major companies these days — to request permission before sharing personal data with third parties, and give consumers access to the data that firms have collected about them.
  • Because of the high fines associated with not complying with the law, GDPR is now becoming the global standard for how businesses mine consumer data. Some argue that, as a result, the U.S. should have a similar standard.

4. The White House got interested. Staffers in the National Economic Council recognized the global swirl around data privacy and began meeting with major corporations to get feedback on a potential privacy framework.

5. States took matters into their own hands. California passed a law putting restrictions on Google, Facebook and other companies in the business of gathering data directly from consumers. Vermont also passed its own privacy law this year aimed at data brokers.

  • That patchwork of different rules makes it tough for internet companies to do business across states — so they'd rather have a national law to pre-empt the states.

6. And the Democrats won the House. After the springtime Zuckerberg hearings, House Democrats vowed to make passing privacy legislation a priority if the House flipped after the mid-terms.

  • And 15 Democratic senators have introduced a privacy bill that would require apps, websites and other services that collect data to protect customer information and be subject to fines for misusing data.

Between the lines: Tech companies may say they're on board with privacy rules of some sort, but they've stopped short of committing to specific provisions, such as letting consumers opt in to data collection instead of forcing them to opt out.

What's next: When proposals get fleshed out in early 2019, industry lobbyists will be working hard to shape the details.

Go deeper

Why some Republican governors oppose anti-trans bills

Photo Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Chistopher Goodney (Bloomberg), Drew Angerer, Stephen Yang/Getty Images

Some Republican governors have found themselves at odds with their own party over a record number of bills targeting transgender children.

Why it matters: Social conservatives see a winning issue in bills to restrict trans students' participation in sports and access to health care, but the sudden push has met resistance even from some staunch conservatives.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
11 hours ago - Science

China makes history with successful Mars landing

A model of the Tianwen-1 Mars rover is displayed during an exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing. Photo: Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images

A Chinese lander carrying a rover successfully touched down on Mars for the first time, state media reports.

Why it matters: This is the first time China has landed a spacecraft on another planet, and it launches the nation into an elite club of only a few space agencies to successfully make it to the Martian surface.

12 hours ago - World

UN: 10,000 Palestinians displaced in Gaza as Israel-Hamas fighting escalates

A Palestinian woman walks after she collects her belongings inside her damaged house following an Israeli air in the northern Gaza Strip. Photo: Ahmed Zakot/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The United Nations warned Friday that ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas "has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis," in not only the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, but "the region as a whole."

The big picture: More than 125 Palestinians, including 31 children have been killed in Gaza since fighting began Monday, per the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Eight people, including two children, have been killed in Israel, Reuters reported, citing Israeli authorities.

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