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Can Florida's new digital data law tame the 'Wild West' of online privacy?

This combination shows the logos of Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat on mobile devices. Florida's new digital bill of rights goes into effect July 1, 2024 requiring new privacy disclosures and rules for most large ad-based Internet companies.
This combination shows the logos of Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat on mobile devices. Florida's new digital bill of rights goes into effect July 1, 2024 requiring new privacy disclosures and rules for most large ad-based Internet companies.

Floridians may have new privacy options this summer if you use Amazon, Facebook or Google, thanks to a new digital privacy law that goes into effect July 1.

Big tech companies have had a year to prepare for the new law, which expands what’s considered personal data to include your voice, fingerprints and face.

Supporters say it allows users more control over their data and how large Internet companies that make money from advertising use it.

“It's going to give Floridians the ability to ask them to delete it and get rid of it, if they don’t want them to have it anymore," state Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, who sponsored the bill, SB 262, in the Florida House, said last year following its passage.

The bill grew out of the culture war over social media after the 2020 presidential election.

"What we’re going to do with the search engines is require Google and other large search engines operating in Florida to disclose whether they prioritize search results based on political or ideological views or based on monetary considerations," said Gov. Ron DeSantis in June 2022 when he signed the bill into law.

The bulk of the legislation, though, deals with online privacy. And it becomes the latest state effort in a growing patchwork of laws across the U.S. to address consumer online privacy.

"It's the Wild West," said Consumer Reports CEP Marta Tellado.

Consumer Reports is the non-profit best known for rating cars, appliances and electronics. It expanded into consumer digital rights several years ago.

"The vulnerabilities are real," she said.

Florida follows more than a dozen other states to pass some type of consumer digital data protection regulations. California was the first, approving its legislation in 2018 that went into effect two years later.

Three other states join Florida in having data privacy laws become effective July 1 — Texas, Oregon and Montana.

Tellado called the various state efforts a "patchwork" in noting "the frustration in a lack of a real federal uniform policy."

The state efforts tend to have one of two strategies. Comprehensive digital privacy laws, like California's, regulate how companies collect, use, share and disclose personal information of users. Under these laws, consumers have an explicit right to review, correct and delete data.

Florida's law includes those provisions, however, it applies to a very narrow type of company.

Firms have to have more than $1 billion in annual sales and get more than half of that from online ads. It also applies to companies that operate voice-activated smart speakers and to companies operating large-scale app stores.

That leaves only a handful of tech and social media companies subject to Florida's rules.

Tellado called the limitations "a very significant loophole."

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, Google and Amazon did not respond to emails requesting information about how they are preparing to meet Florida’s new digital privacy requirements.

"It's a very business friendly exemption," Tellado said. "If you want to live in a consumer-first world, that's probably not going to get you there. It still leaves Florida consumers' personal information unprotected in a variety of ways."

Since the law targets online companies that dominate Internet advertising, there is concern small businesses may be hurt. The regulations, "could prevent small businesses and nonprofits – that often have limited advertising budgets – from accessing the tools they need to create ads that are specific to their audience and demographics," warned the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce after the bill was signed.

 Consumer Reports CEO Marta Tellado
Victoria Will
Consumer Reports CEO Marta Tellado

The new law directs how the tech firms need to alert Florida consumers, and it can't be buried in a general "Terms and Conditions" link. Users will have to give "a clear, affirmative" okay. The law demands an "unambigious" agreement.

But consumers won't be able to directly sue if they think their digital privacy has been violated. Legal action against a tech firm suspected of violating Florida's new privacy rules is reserved for the attorney general.

"We're always in favor of amplifying consumer voices," said Tellado. "What we see is that the more power in the hands of consumers, the more elected officials listen up."

In early April, two federal lawmakers — a Republican and Democrat — announced they had partnered to write a landmark national data privacy bill.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) unveiledwhat they call the American Privacy Rights Act. Their proposal aims to set national standards for collecting and using data, including allowing users to opt out of targeted online advertising.

Republican opposition to privacy protection efforts have been over the patchwork of state rules. The federal legislation would preempt those laws.

Democrats, meantime, have pushed for allowing consumers to file civil lawsuits for financial damages. The Cantwell-Rodgers draft bill allows such legal action.

The proposal has yet to be introduced in Congress.

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