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Florida Advances ‘Digital Bill of Rights’ Aimed at Big Tech

The legislative package would give consumers the right to opt out of sharing their data, requiring tech giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook to disclose when and if they are collecting users’ personal data.

Gov. Ron DeSantis gives opening remarks flanked by local lawmakers
On Monday, May 25, 2021 in Miami, Gov. Ron DeSantis gives opening remarks flanked by local lawmakers before signing legislation to make it harder for social media companies to punish users who violate terms of service agreements.
Carl Juste/TNS
(TNS) — Faced with concerns from Florida’s small businesses that rely on digital advertising, a legislative committee scaled back a technology bill that attempts to give consumers more control over their online footprint by narrowing it to target companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

The measure, SB 262 and its companion, HB 1547, head next to the House and Senate floors for final votes. Both measures attempt to give consumers the right to opt out of sharing their data, which is often collected and sold by companies to advertisers to sell targeted ads to consumers online. But only the Senate bill has been modified to more tightly narrow the scope to target the nation’s tech giants.

The bills require that companies get permission to collect and sell personal data and impose new disclosure requirements so that customers can know when and if their personal data is collected. The measure also prevents companies from selling someone’s personal data to a data broker without their consent.

“What we see today is more akin to surveillance advertising, and Floridians lack even the most basic control over our information,’’ Sen. Jennifer Bradley told the Senate Rules Committee before it approved the measure Monday.

The bill is part of the priority legislation sought by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis who said earlier this year he wants to increase consumer privacy protections, guard against censorship, and enshrine “digital rights” into state law.

This is the third time Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, and Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican, have sponsored a data privacy bill. In 2021, legislators approved a bill but a state court ruled it unconstitutional, and a federal appellate court upheld the rulings. Last year, a similar measure died in the final days of the legislative session.

While this year’s version weaves together data privacy laws adopted by other states, such as California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah and Virginia, tech companies warn that Florida’s proposal on content moderation — a provision particularly sought by DeSantis — is again unconstitutional.

For example, the bills require a search engine such as Google to reveal how it “prioritizes or deprioritizes political partisanship or political ideology in its search results.”

Trade Group Warns of Cyber Crime Threat

In a letter to Florida senators last week, the Computer & Communications Industry Association warned that that provision would “provide a roadmap to criminals and adversaries on how to defeat the measures the digital services employ to protect consumers from online threats” and warned the legislation “may raise constitutional concerns.”

Like other states, the Florida bills give consumers the right to opt out of the sale of their information, the right to see the data a company has about them, and the right to request that information be deleted or corrected.

This year, the bill does not include provisions to allow online customers to sue businesses if they can show their data had been sold in violation of the proposal, but it bars government employees from requesting that social media companies take down content or delete certain users, with exceptions for criminal activity or matters related to public safety.

The bills have been opposed by companies, most recently small businesses, that fear it will not only harm their ability to generate advertising sales, it will limit access customers have to retail options.

CEO of Small Doral Company Says Bill Would Hurt

Alexander Fedorowicz, co-founder and CEO of QRX labs, a small skincare company based in Doral with 35 products that are exported across the globe, told the Senate Rules Committee that because of online advertising, his small company of 18 employees can “compete against very large companies like the Procter and Gambles and L’Oreals of this world, in an efficient way and a cost-effective way.”

He warned that by allowing customers to opt-out of online advertising, it could have a dramatic impact on his company’s bottom line and because of the proposed July 1 effective date, he may not have time to adapt his approaches to continue to reach customers.

Jon Potter of the Connected Commerce Council told senators a survey of Florida small businesses found that 99 percent say targeted digital advertising “is more effective and less expensive than billboards, television, newspapers and radio.”

“Florida small businesses say the targeted advertising helps them compete against larger businesses,” Potter said. “... And that they will lose money in profits if they have to pay more for advertising that doesn’t work as well.”

Bill Now Aims at Tech Giants

To address those concerns, Bradley proposed and the Rules Committee adopted a rewrite of the bill that attempts to limit the scope to the tech giants.

The measure now applies to for-profit companies that make over $1 billion in global gross revenue and either derive 50 percent of their revenue from ad sales, operate a consumer smart speaker with a voice command component or operate an app store or digital distribution platform “that offers at least 250,000 different software applications,’’ she said.

The bill aims to regulate “targeted advertising,” which is defined as “when a company makes a decision whether or not to display an ad to you if they’re basing that decision on information they have collected across multiple platforms over time and they use it to sort of predict your behavior,’’ Bradley said.

But when someone is in a new location looking for a restaurant, that would be considered “contextual advertising” and would not be something that people opt out of,’’ she explained.

Adam Basford, lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida, said the penalty provisions — which allow a court to order a fee of up to $50,000 for each violation — remain too high, and the effective date of July 1 is too soon for businesses to comply.

Spence Purnell, director of technology policy at the libertarian advocacy group Reason Foundation, warned that the proposal could have a negative impact on free enterprise.

“In the United States, we don’t know the outcomes of these laws yet,’’ Purnell said. “California is just coming into effect. Colorado’s comes into effect next year as well. So I think it’s premature to say that these don’t have a negative impact.”

The International Association of Privacy Professionals is tracking similar legislation in more than 20 states this year.

The House Commerce Committee did not amend its proposal, but passed it with little discussion. The bills now head to the full House and Senate for a final vote.

©2023 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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