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Effort to Protect Consumer Data Privacy Stalls in Florida

A campaign by Gov. Ron DeSantis to help Floridians regain ownership of the troves of data that companies collect came to a halt Friday, when state lawmakers could not agree on how tightly to limit how Big Data harvests and uses people’s information.

A campaign by Gov. Ron DeSantis to help Floridians regain ownership of the troves of data that companies collect came to a halt Friday, when state lawmakers could not agree on how tightly to limit how Big Data harvests and uses people’s information.

It was a rare defeat for DeSantis in his bid to regulate how Big Tech treats people. Earlier this week, lawmakers sent him a measure that would punish social media companies that he and other Republicans contend discriminate and censor conservatives.

Unlike the social media proposal, the legislative effort to address consumer data privacy was mostly bipartisan. But business interests lobbied heavily against the proposal, and the industry’s fingerprints were clearly on the legislation.

“We started an important conversation about data privacy for Floridians and took strong first steps toward commonsense changes,” said Rep. Fiona McFarland, who sponsored the House version of the effort.

“Each session there are dozens of important issues that we debate and consider in a short 60-day window. This is the nature of the legislative process, and I look forward to continuing the good work on this complicated issue in the next session,” she said.

From the start, the bill seemed destined for trouble — not only because of opposition from business lobbyists but also from lawmakers who thought the matter was better addressed on the federal level. That was intimated by Senate President Wilton Simpson, who had joined DeSantis for a news conference earlier this year to announce the legislative effort.

An early sticking point between the two chambers focused on whether individual Floridians could sue companies that don’t comply with the law, but both sides agreed to strike the provision.

Still, there were insurmountable differences. The Senate version would have exempted some megacompanies — including Google — from some provisions of the law, which did not sit well with House advocates.

Other differences centered on how the law would define the selling and sharing of personal data, and whether some companies can share information as part of its business model.

Florida, the country’s third most populous state, would have been the latest to enact consumer protections against Big Data’s ability to harvest information about how people conduct their day-to-day lives, including where they shop and eat, what they read and what they share online. The resulting dossier is often bought and sold in a lucrative marketplace that has become an important element of modern commerce.

Businesses raised concern that complying with the law could cost billions of dollars, and it was unclear how quickly businesses could put in place the necessary infrastructure and protocols to comply.

A proliferation of “techlash” bills have sprouted across statehouses across the country, amid concerns from lawmakers that Big Tech companies have become too powerful. Some have urged the federal government to move more quickly to address that power, including issues about privacy.

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