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A History of American Law

Not all bills on the table take an omnibus approach. Some appear to be highly specific swipes at Facebook. For example, a social media privacy bill introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Kennedy does not add very much to consumer privacy, but each of its provisions — like one that forbids a change to a product that “overrides the privacy preferences of a user” — seems to be a reference to something Facebook has done in the past. Senators Mark Warner and Deb Fischer have introduced a bill circumscribing experimentation on users without their consent. It might seem shocking that any company would do such a thing, but, in fact, Facebook tinkered with its News Feed in 2014 to test whether it could alter its users’ emotions. (The bill also bars designing sites targeted at children under the age of 13 “with the purpose or substantial effect of cultivating compulsive usage, including video auto-play functions initiated without the consent of a user” — a provision aimed at YouTube and its effect on children.)

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Where the Warner/Fischer bill looks to alleviate the harmful effects of data collection on consumers, Senator Josh Hawley’s Do Not Track Act seeks to stop the problem much closer to the source, by creating a Do Not Track system administered by the Federal Trade Commission. Commercial websites would be required by law not to harvest unnecessary data from consumers who have Do Not Track turned on.