Time for the U.S. to take digital privacy seriously

Time for the U.S. to take digital privacy seriously  

Horace C. White

Modern Tokyo Times


GDPR-styled privacy regulations in the face of data abuses

On May 25th, 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a regulation that gives European residents greater control over their data, came into force, ending years of abuse of customer data by tech-based firms. Formulated by the European Union (EU), the GDPR mandated companies that hold and manage the data of people living in Europe to allow users control over their data or pay a heavy fine of $24 million or 4% of their annual revenue. Many enthusiasts say that the need to formulate the regulation became necessary following the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Now the question remains: “Is the United States ready for a similar regulation?”

GDPR-like Privacy Law in the United States

Given the successful implementation of the GDPR in Europe, the United States is looking to develop a GDPR-like regulation. In the forefront of this push are prominent figures and government institutions. In August 2018, an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Commerce, David Redi, hinted that the Trump administration plans to fix US data privacy issues. Apart from Redi, Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook openly canvased for more stringent data-control legislation. CEO Cook tasked Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to monitor how tech firms use customers’ digital information.

Apparently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has keyed into this move. In its recent publication, the bi-partisan government agency stated that the U.S. is due for new legislation on internet privacy. According to the GAO report, the onus is on the FTC to enforce new regulations on internet privacy, but the power of the FTC is limited now. The GAO lamented that the Internet-governing commission lacks the necessary legal backings to slam penalties where it is necessary.

Why does the U.S. need a GDPR-styled regulation?

On the reason behind this call, the GAO pointed out some flagrant abuses of users’ information, citing the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data debacle as a typical example. In the same report, the agency listed a handful of other cases that have happened over the years. The Internet of Things (IoT), for instance, has heightened the chances of security breaches in the United States. In conclusion, the report called on Congress to take appropriate steps to develop relevant internet privacy and standards to address growing concerns of user data abuses.

Data abuse in the automobile industry

While a lot of companies abuse customer’s information, one of the most worrisome abuses is that of the automobile industry. Indeed, IoT is always associated with smart wearables and gadgets, but there is more to it than meets the eyes. Nowadays, automakers embed WiFi into cars, which enables them to offer a wide range of advanced services. Some of these services include GPS navigation, Apple CarPlay integration, email, and a host of others. Basically, these cars house hundreds of sensors and onboard computers.

Connected cars, as they have come to be called, contain information that is generated and stored locally. Although the automakers say that the benefits are countless, users worry because the carmakers don’t provide clear-cut guidelines on how they use people’s data. Today, people buy cars and are instructed to sync their internet-enabled devices with their connected car, leaving them to gravely concerned about privacy. It must be emphasized here that third-party vendors have access to such information on connected cars, and nobody is sure what they need it for. Obviously, OEMs have abdicated their responsibility for not reassuring users of their data security. This practice is unacceptable, in which the U.S. government must begin to take digital privacy seriously. No doubt, the U.S. government must formulate stringent laws, similar to the GDPR, to end this madness.


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