U.S. Senate bill would grant social media users more control of their data

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Whether sharing light-hearted videos or disclosing private messages, millions of Americans spend their day posting personal information online. Now one U.S. senator wants to keep that data in users’ hands.

Sen. John Kennedy’s Own Your Own Data Act would give consumers full rights to the data they post online, while shielding internet companies from collecting and monetizing that information.

“Facebook and Google, they’re not companies, but countries,” Kennedy said after introducing the measure Thursday. “They don’t really tell us what data they’re collecting, and they don’t tell us how they’re using it.”

The Louisiana Republican’s three-page bill would require social media outlets to simplify licensing agreements with new users. Consumers have long scrolled through the files without reading the fine print, in many cases consenting to data collections they don’t understand — or want.

“Go read the Facebook user agreement,” Kennedy said. “You could hide a dead body in there and nobody would ever find it.”

Under the new measure, agreements would have to use terms that a “reasonable person of average intelligence can understand” without exceeding “150 words, using a measure of six characters to a word.”

“It’s going to make it very clear who the boss is,” Kennedy said. “It’s you. This is your data.”

The bill would also require social media companies to “prominently and conspicuously” post two icons. One would let users click to see what personal details a site has gathered from them, as well as why that information has been collected. Another icon would let consumers pull their data from an account.

Kennedy’s critiques of how social media giants use and sell information have risen on Capitol Hill, especially following revelations last year that Cambridge Analytica harvested data to target Facebook users.

“I don’t want to vote to have to regulate Facebook, but by God I will,” Kennedy told Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during a five-hour Senate hearing last April. “Your user agreement sucks.”

He and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) have sponsored multiple measures enforcing online privacy. A bill they introduced in January would require online platforms to tell users about data breaches within 72 hours.

Kennedy’s latest bill would rely on the Federal Trade Commission to enforce data collection policies.

“If you’ve ever had the FTC on you, they’ll go Medieval on you,” he said. “They’ll hit you with fines that will choke a horse.”

The senator’s idea resembles a privacy law that took effect last May, protecting users in the European Union. The General Data Protection Regulation limits how online companies collect and handle personal data — including a user’s full name, home address and IP address.

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