NetChoice: California privacy bills are bad for Internet

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E-commerce trade group NetChoice takes aim at state legislation—and at open access and privacy advocates—in the newest list of bills it deems would be awful for the Internet.

Topping NetChoice’s latest iAWFUL (Internet Advocates’ Watchlist for Ugly Laws) list are a number of California proposals aimed at protecting privacy that would create regulations for Internet companies. In some cases, the proposals are contradictory: One bill in California would limit website and mobile app privacy policies to 100 words, and a second would require more disclosure in privacy policies.

Another California bill would require advertisers on mobile apps to include privacy policies and to obtain consumer consent before displaying ads in some circumstances.

“States are seen as laboratories of democracy, but [California] is building us a Frankenstein of Internet laws right now,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, with members including Facebook, Yahoo and eBay.

California, where much of the U.S. tech industry was born, is trying to “kill the golden goose of the Internet economy,” he added.

Another California bill would regulate online tracking of consumers, even though the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration is hosting discussions about best practices for protecting consumer privacy and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is working on an online do-not-track standard.

California should wait for the NTIA and W3C efforts to bear fruit instead of “going it alone,” DelBianco said.

Critics have said the W3C efforts are moving slowly. Privacy advocates and some lawmakers have called for do-not-track laws, saying voluntary standards won’t be strong enough to protect Web users from companies that don’t agree to the standards.

Also on the iAWFUL list are recent bills in three states—California, again, plus Illinois and North Dakota—and a U.S. White House memo calling for research funded by taxpayers to appear in free publications. The so-called open access debate has been in the news recently because of the Massachusetts charges against advocate Aaron Swartz and his suicide in January.

Swartz had faced a prison sentence for hacking into a Massachusetts Institute of Technology network and downloading research articles, in an effort to make the work publicly available.

Open-access advocates say taxpayer-funded research should benefit the public without paywall restrictions.

“Scientific research supported by the Federal Government catalyzes innovative breakthroughs that drive our economy,” the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said in a February memo. “The results of that research become the grist for new insights and are assets for progress in areas such as health, energy, the environment, agriculture, and national security. Access to digital data sets resulting from federally funded research allows companies to focus resources and efforts on understanding and exploiting discoveries.”

But the state and White House proposals could mean that even minor contributions from taxpayer-funded researchers would require research to be made available for free, DelBianco said. Researchers should have a choice of where to publish, and in some cases, an edited and peer-reviewed journal that charges for its content may be the better option, he said.

“This is a move ... to say that anytime a dime of taxpayer money or a minute of government-employees time is involved, it has be freely published on the Internet,” DelBianco said. “The choice belongs with the researchers and authors.”

Open-access rules could lead to other content produced at state universities—including video, music and software—being made available for free, DelBianco said.

Also making the iAWFUL list: much debated Internet sales tax legislation that passed the U.S. Senate in early May, and a number of state bills that would add new requirements to existing breach notification laws.

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