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Privacy & Data

Joseph Jerome Testifying Before New York Senate on Privacy

Statement of Joseph Jerome, Policy Counsel, Privacy & Data Project

Center for Democracy & Technology

before the New York Senate Standing Committee on Consumer Protection

New York Senate Standing Committee on Internet and Technology

hearing on Online Privacy and Role of Legislature June 4, 2019


Dear Chairpersons Thomas and Savino, and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I speak on behalf of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a non-profit, non-partisan technology advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. CDT has long worked to promote laws that protect individuals’ privacy and security online.

The goal of my testimony today is to explain to you why privacy is important and the urgent need for laws that limit companies’ ability to use and abuse our data. Unregulated data processing has real world impacts that extend far beyond headlines about Facebook or generalized concerns about online ad tracking. I would like to highlight a few areas where privacy law could help to curtail unfair and discriminatory corporate behaviors.

  • First, “take-it-or-leave-it” privacy policies disadvantage low-income Americans. The irony of so-called “notice-and-choice” is that it gives people very little choice in how they share personal information. Not using an app or service is not a real option. This lack of choice is especially stark for low-income Americans, who rely on mobile technologies and cannot shop around for devices or services that provide better privacy protections. Low-income customers are least able to pass up on incentive programs like grocery store loyalty cards, which feed into data brokers that profile and score people based on incomplete information that affects people’s opportunities in ways no one understands. Dozens of different data brokers operate different opt-outs. Any restriction on data flows can help protect these communities.
  • Second, commercial surveillance technologies take advantage of power imbalances. New technologies, including face tracking, make spying on New Yorkers easier than ever before. Without appropriate safeguards, the design and proliferation of these products can facilitate abuse. For example, smart lock company Latch allowed landlords to track their tenants. Residents in a New York City apartment building found themselves needing a smartphone app just to get into the building’s lobby, elevator, or mail room. Five tenants had to go to court just to enter their apartments using good-old-fashioned keys. New privacy laws compensate for these power imbalances by creating costs to cavalier data practices.
  • Third, location data sharing is exploitative and raises legitimate safety considerations. I want to stop and emphasize location data for a moment — the reality is that companies have been careless in how they collect, share, and sell our location information. The New York Times recently revealed that many of the apps that collect location information repurpose or share that information with third parties. In early 2019, mobile phone carriers were again caught sharing location data with third-party aggregators — data that has ended up in the hands of bounty hunters. Stalkers, aggressive debt collectors, and the watchful eyes of law enforcement use this data to harass people. Their recourse is limited. The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) advises survivors who are concerned they may be tracked to simply turn their phones off. No one should have to make the choice between using a cell phone and being safe from stalking.