A bipartisan bill proposed Monday by Sens. Mark Warner, D-VA, and Josh Hawley, R-MO, aims to make big tech companies – Facebook, Google, Amazon, et al. – tell users how much their data is worth.
The Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight and Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act – another commendable acronym – would require “commercial data operators,” defined as online consumer services with 100 million monthly active users or more, to publicly disclose what data they collect, how they collect it and what its commercial value is.
Disclosure also applies to any data that was used for a purpose other than for which it was originally collected.
These companies would have to conduct an assessment of the data’s value once every 90 days and file an annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission on the aggregate value of the user data they collect, including any contracts with third parties involving data collection, and give users the right to delete any or all data fields about themselves.
The bill calls on the SEC to spearhead the creation of a methodology for calculating the value of user data.
Without better transparency into how consumer data is collected and monetized, Warner and Hawley argue that agencies like the Federal Trade Commission can’t effectively address anticompetitive issues and potential consumer harms.
Consumers also remain unaware of how their data brings in beaucoup bucks for the providers of the purportedly free services they enjoy.
“Tech companies do their best to hide how much consumer data is worth and to whom it is sold,” Hawley said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation gives consumers control of their data and will show them how much these ‘free’ services actually cost.”
To be fair, Facebook already breaks out average revenue per user in its quarterly earnings reports. In Q1, Facebook’s ARPU in the United States and Canada was $30.12 – up nearly 28% year over year.
But Warner and Hawley are making a point. Based on the user threshold, the DASHBOARD Act is clearly aimed at a handful of companies, said Gary Kibel, a partner at Davis & Gilbert LLP.
Warner introduced legislation in April that would ban large internet companies from using deceptive design practices known as “dark patterns” that trick users into sharing their personal data, while Hawley advanced a bill last month that would codify the ill-fated Do Not Track initiative into law. Hawley also announced a bill last week that would make online companies legally responsible for the user-generated content posted to their platforms.
The DASHBOARD Act only calls for online service providers to file an annual or quarterly report on the aggregate value of the user data they’ve collected. But taking the bill to its logical conclusion, why shouldn’t consumers know exactly what their personal worth is to an online platform?
“Eventually, folks will have a phrase similar to ‘My Credit Score’ that is something like … ‘My datetary (data + monetary) score,’” tweeted Zach Edwards, founder of analytics firm Victory Medium. “People should know and be able to track this.”
But quantifying the economic worth of data from an individual user could prove extremely challenging, and “may actually require more data collection and analysis than currently exists,” Kibel said .
“In order to assign a value to my browsing information from a sports website vs. your browsing information from a shopping website will require attribution on a one-to-one basis, whereas such attribution may only be on a segment basis now.”