Sep 26, 2018

Tech firms divided before Senate privacy hearing

Sen. John Thune is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

A group of companies including Apple, Google and AT&T will call for federal privacy legislation at a Wednesday Senate hearing.

Where it stands: Despite that agreement, expect the firms' differences to be in stark relief, as some of them look to differentiate themselves from the major ad platforms, Google included, that have led the way in monetizing user data.

What we’re hearing:

  • Google will defend its ad-supported business model while supporting federal regulations, its witness, Chief Privacy Officer Keith Enright, told us this week.
  • Apple will look to draw a contrast with companies that need to monetize user data to have a successful business.
  • ISP Charter Communications will call for privacy legislation that applies both to companies like itself as well as “edge” providers like the social platforms, according to a person familiar with the company’s plans. An AT&T spokesperson noted in a statement that it “long supported federal legislation to protect consumer privacy through a clear and consistent set of safeguards that apply equally to all platforms.”

Amazon and Twitter will also participate in the Senate Commerce Committee hearing, which comes as the panel tries to put together a legislative package on privacy.

  • That is unlikely to occur before the midterm elections, lawmakers say.
  • Companies are likely to push for federal legislation that preempts state rules, thanks to a privacy law that passed the California legislature this year and goes into effect in 2020.

The bottom line: The California law has brought companies and policymakers to the table. Now, industry wants to shape whatever national law emerges from that process.

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