CES 2019, recently concluded in Las Vegas and Masur Griffitts + LLP was asked to moderate several panels pertaining to intellectual property and virtual reality at the Digital Hollywood event. Serving as the global stage for innovation, CES introduced many new tech products across a variety of industries. Some exciting new devices like the Samsung GEMS-H demonstrated the possibility of futuristic human abilities—creating a complete lower body exoskeleton. Cars were a focal point at the show as well;he Mercedes-Benz CLA 2020 exhibited heart rate monitoring to control temperatures, music and lighting.
Another major trend at CES was products that utilize location and voice-activated services.Voice assistants, with tracking and location services, are able to power features like traffic predictions and restaurant recommendations. Amazon’s Alexa continues to be built into more products, and CES 2019 displayed many newly-Alexa-enabled products such as Jabra’s Elite 85H Headphones and Lenovo’s Smart Tablet.
Although the convenience of location enabled technology allows for more fluid day-to-day functions and potentially faster exchange of information, they introduce a host of privacy concerns and legal ramifications.
In the first week of 2019, Los Angeles prosecutors sued, Weather: The Weather Channel. The nexus of the claim is that the app tracked the whereabouts of its users and sold it to third-party websites for targeted ads. After high-profile conglomerates like Facebook faced major scrutiny for sharing consumer data, this is the newest lawsuit that relates to online consumer privacy. Mike Feuer, the Los Angeles City prosecutor on the case questions, “This case against the operators of the Weather Channel app goes to the core of today’s most fundamental issues: How do we maintain privacy in the digital age?”
One proposed solution comes in the form of a “Do Not Track Option”. In the face of continued privacy breaches, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, one of privacy’s most vocal advocates, doesn’t have faith in big tech companies to regulate themselves, and he has proposed the Consumer Data Protection Act. The proposed regulation is an amendment to the Federal Trade Commission Act. Senator Wyden writes in his discussion draft that he hopes to “establish requirements and responsibilities for entities that use, store, or share personal information, to protect personal information, and for other purposes.”
The proposed bill calls for big tech companies to submit to the government annual data protection reports, which should outline the measures the companies took to ensure the security of all collected personal information. The “Do Not Track Option” section will allow people to opt-out entirely of having their data sold or shared to third-parties and companies that personalize advertisements. This concept is essentially the same as the Do Not Call Registry that was established by the FTC in 2003, where people were given a choice to opt-out of receiving phone calls from telemarketers. The “Do Not Track Option” seems to match up as the digital age’s edition of that. Senator Wyden also proposes to hire 175 more government staff to regulate the market for private data that may have potentially been sold or transacted between companies who possess the data banks. Finally, to ensure cooperation with his proposed legislation, Senator Wyden has included language that outlines prison sentences of up to 20 years for executives who do not abide by the proposed terms. (You can read Senator Wyden’s one-pager underlying the proposed framework here.)
Although this is a valiant effort to maintain consumer privacy in the digital age, it will be a battle for Senator Wyden to have this bill signed into law. The tech lobby has a powerful influence on federal and state policy. Lobbyists pour massive funds into opposing bills that are not in their favor. Amazon, Microsoft, Uber, Facebook, Google, AT&T, and Verizon previously teamed up to work against the proposed California Consumer Privacy Act. The legislation requires companies to share the data they collect from users and also give users similar opt-out option of having their information sold to the highest bidder. Although this was signed into law several months ago, the tech companies put up a fight, and will likely oppose Senator Wyden’s Consumer Data Protection Act as well.
The future of online data privacy is uncertain, but with continued legislative attempts and investigations, it seems as if big conglomerates are also taking steps to make changes to their privacy practices. Just last week, face with a federal investigation, AT&T said they will stop selling location data and pledged to suspend current deals and terminate all remaining deals pertaining to location data. Given the push for legislation reform, tech companies could potentially see massive fines and other consequences. Ultimately, the revenue generated from selling consumer location data may have to become more transparent. For the present moment, consumers intrigued by the new location service enabled tech products at CES can rest a little more comfortably knowing that there are measures being taken to ensure that they retain privacy and control of their data.
We would like to thank Sasha Safavi for his contribution to this article.