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  • Ethan Wai Chi Leung

A Possible Solution for Data Privacy

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

Although storing our private data online increases the chance of leaking our information, if companies are willing to collaborate with users and the government steps up, we could potentially decrease concerns regarding data privacy. Through collaboration, the public would be able to have a better understanding of the use of our data, and hopefully be able to help companies develop regulations that suit the community of users as well as the platforms themselves.

In order to reduce the data privacy risks, the government and tech companies should work together to establish guidelines. An example of how this may operate is through an agency like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is an independent agency of the United States government whose mission is to enforce U.S civil antitrust law. The FTC charges companies in order to regulate unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent trade practices. In 2014, the FTC issued charges to Snapchat for deceiving consumers by falsely representing that their messages disappear after being viewed. Even though the FTC has done a good job regulating companies on user data, companies are able to avoid their regulations, as shown by the FTC’s settlement with Facebook. The FTC fully regulated and ensured privacy within the Facebook community; however, the FTC wasn't able to change Facebook's business model, nor hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable. Instead, the FTC allowed Facebook to quietly settle the case without following the FTC's original 2010 consent order. The truth is that the FTC wasn’t made to handle these tech corporations. Fining a $629 billion company $5 billion dollars won't incentivize it to obey the law. A new approach is needed. The FTC was founded in 1914 to act against monopolistic practices. With new tech companies that don't fall within this purview, the only way to truly regulate the new tech landscape is by creating a new government agency.

Having a new government agency that works with these online platforms is vital to ensure the security of our data. Tech companies need to store our data in some shape or form to operate, which a new agency would be able to allow while securing our private data. A separate government agency would benefit both the company and the users as it would keep the platform's functionality while making sure user data is safe. Through ongoing collaboration between the company and the agency, the government could solve problems with the company by preventing them in the first place, instead of issuing a fine and having the company make changes on its own. Therefore, creating a separate government agency to work with these companies could function better, allowing for a smoother transition for companies who rely on user data to operate. The agency could operate by assigning individual members to go through and check these companies for security violations and make reports that are open to the public, discussing how the company is protecting user data. If there seems to be a privacy issue, then the agency could collaborate with the company to find a way to prevent security violations. Having regular meetings between agency members and the company would also allow for a better way to avoid privacy issues beforehand. Unlike the FTC, a new agency would, instead of relying on companies to fix themselves, try to solve problems through collaboration and providing support to these companies. The new agency would also inform users about what is occurring with their data, which allows users to feel comfortable while using a platform.

These tech platforms are often a source of communication, yet don't communicate with their users enough. When the Observer revealed the harvesting of 50 million user’s data, Mark Zuckerberg was silent for the first few days even when reporters asked for possible investigations and regulations regarding his company. The event made #DeleteFacebook go viral as a cycle of negative news began. If there had been better communication with users, the result would have been different.

Users need to be well informed to provide feedback and establish trust with the companies. Representatives of companies need to notify users of progressions with their platform instead of keeping them in the dark. Informing users on what the company is doing with the data is crucial to maintaining trust. By having interviews, making public statements, or video updates, having interactions within the community would help minimize the risk of data privacy concerns. Knowing what tech companies are doing helps users prevent mistakes, such as accidentally consenting to something they had little to no awareness of before. Companies need to build trust with users through these interactions instead of trying to hide information. Through concerted collaboration between government and tech companies, data privacy can be protected while maintaining the many benefits of our digitized world.




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