Legislation to protect consumer privacy doesn’t have to hamper innovation in the tech sector, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said Thursday at a Senate hearing on privacy featuring testimony from Apple, Google and Facebook. In fact protecting consumer privacy would boost consumer confidence, Kerry said.“I reject the notion that privacy protection is the end of innovation, it absolutely doesn’t have to be and isn’t,” Kerry said, adding that he believed privacy protections could help the marketplace by building trust with consumers that their personal data was being protected.
Kerry said that Congress has understood and been guided by the “automatic instinct” of tech companies to say “hey Washington, just leave us alone.” But he said that technology was in a “different place today, and we need companies like Google and Apple and Facebook to join companies … which have already come down on the side of common sense.”
Even Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), usually an advocate of deregulation, indicated he’d be open to some sort of legislative remedy so long as it allowed for innovation.
“As a general matter, I prefer to see the industry self-regulate,” Toomey said. “I think it’s important to find the right balance that protects consumer privacy but continues to allow continuing innovation to occur.”
Prepared testimony from Google’s Director of Public Policy Alan Davidson doesn’t reject a legislative solution. Davidson said that Congress “has an important role in helping companies build trust and create appropriate baseline standards for online privacy and security.”
David Vladeck, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, testified that several non-public investigations dealing with mobile privacy were underway. He also said that privacy polices, even on “big screens,” are often “indecipherable” to consumers and that the FTC was looking at solutions for making sure consumers know what they’re agreeing to.
Vladeck said that geo-location data “is so special and so important” and that it “ought to be treated as special data” that deserves specific protections. He said that the FTC supports the goals of “Do Not Track” legislation introduced by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV).
This wouldn’t be the last time Silicon Valley hears from Congress, said Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee.
“I can assure you this wouldn’t be your last visit,” Rockafeller said.