Click here to watch Thune’s speech.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, today discussed the privacy challenges consumers face when using online platforms. Thune believes that more transparency is one way to address this issue, and he remains committed to working with both parties to develop a new consumer privacy law.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, these days, there’s an online component to almost everything Americans do.
“Were you at the beach last weekend?
“You undoubtedly posted pictures on Facebook and Instagram.
“You probably used Google Maps or Waze or another map app to find your way there.
“You undoubtedly booked a hotel stay on one of the myriad hotel booking sites.
“And you transmitted your credit card information online to pay for it.
“During your stay, you probably took advantage of the hotel’s free wifi, whether you were uploading pictures or watching a show on Netflix.
“If you had dinner at a restaurant while you were there, there’s a good chance you used the internet to make a reservation.
“And if you booked an excursion while you were there – maybe a fishing trip or a boat tour – chances are good you made that reservation online too.
“I could go on, but you get the idea.
“The internet – and mobile internet-enabled devices like our phones and watches – have resulted in an explosion of opportunity and innovation.
“Information is more accessible than ever before.
“We can communicate more swiftly and easily than ever before.
“We can shop without leaving our house, strike out confidently into the unknown without a map and still find our way back, turn on the air conditioner or heater with a simple voice command, and see who’s knocking on our door while we’re 600 miles away on vacation.
“But with the convenience and opportunity of the internet revolution come serious privacy concerns.
“Every time we book a hotel, navigate a new town, buy movie tickets, or order groceries online, we’re putting a lot of personal information into the hands of a lot of different companies.
“Information about our location. Our preferences. Our habits.
“All of this information is likely used in some form or fashion by some of the world’s most successful internet businesses to personalize our search results on Google or to deliver the content we see on Facebook or Instagram.
“As a member and former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I’ve gotten an up-close look at the issue of consumer privacy.
“And I believe that developing bipartisan consumer privacy legislation needs to be a priority here in Congress.
“Last year, as chairman of the Commerce Committee, I convened hearings into consumer data privacy and the accessing of millions of Facebook users’ personal data by the political intelligence firm Cambridge Analytica.
“I also led a hearing to discuss the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and California’s new privacy-related law.
“And I’ve continued to focus on consumer privacy this year as chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet.
“A few weeks ago, I convened a hearing to look at the use of persuasive technology on internet platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
“Sites like YouTube and Facebook use algorithms and artificial intelligence driven by user-specific data to tailor just about everything you see on their platforms, from ads to the video that plays after the YouTube video you searched for.
“These algorithms can be useful – if you searched for Paul Simon’s ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’ on YouTube, you probably won’t mind hearing ‘Graceland’ next.
“And if you’re shopping for a new computer, you might find it useful to see an ad for the latest HP or Apple laptop.
“But these algorithms can also be deployed in far more troubling ways.
“For example, in June, the New York Times reported that YouTube’s automated recommendation system was found to be automatically playing a video of children playing in their backyard pool to users who had watched sexually themed content.
“Algorithms can also be used to limit what news stories and other content people are exposed to.
“As we learned from a witness at the hearing on persuasive technology, a former Google employee named Tristan Harris, these algorithms have the potential to be used to influence the thoughts and behaviors of literally billions of people.
“For all these reasons, I believe that transparency needs to be an essential part of the conversation.
“Americans should be clearly informed how their personal data is being used and how companies influence and control what Americans see online.
“Obviously, users have an obligation to exercise personal responsibility, but companies also need to provide greater transparency about how content is being filtered.
“Mr. President, given the ever-increasing size of our digital footprint and the increased privacy dangers that come along with that, the question isn’t whether we’ll have federal privacy legislation, it’s what that legislation will look like.
“I believe that any final bill should be bipartisan and should set a single national data privacy standard so that companies and consumers don’t have to navigate 50 different sets of rules.
“We need to make consumer data privacy a priority, while also preserving companies’ ability to innovate and deliver the cutting-edge services that we rely on.
“I also believe, as I mentioned, that any bill should include transparency provisions that give consumers a clear understanding of what’s being done with their data.
“And I believe consumers should have the option to engage on internet platforms without being manipulated by algorithms powered by their own personal data.
“Mr. President, this isn’t the first time Congress has tackled new and emerging privacy concerns.
“Over the last few decades, Congress has acted to protect children online, protect sensitive health care information, and modernize how financial institutions use consumer data.
“I believe we can follow in that tradition by developing a new consumer privacy law, and that is why I’m committed to working with colleagues from both parties to develop legislation to meet the privacy challenges we’re facing today.
“I’m confident that we can arrive at a strong consumer privacy bill for the digital age.
“And I will continue to make Americans’ privacy a priority of mine here in Congress.”