Inside Washington state’s battle with big tech over privacy
Big tech companies represent a massive portion of Washington’s economy, something that continues to spur the battle over data privacy statewide.
“In Washington state, unfortunately … big tech has gotten involved, and they’ve actually blocked meaningful efforts to get consumers control their own data, which I find to be really problematic, and actually demonstrates how much power these entities now have,” Seattle data privacy attorney Shankar Narayan told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show.
In 2019, a proposed bill would have allowed people to contact companies, ask what information they have on them, and request that data be deleted. The one catch: The bill was actually written by tech companies themselves, and was littered with loopholes allowing those companies to override consent around deleting data.
“The debate we had in Washington was essentially around a right to ask nicely for a company to delete your data — we don’t think that’s good enough,” said Narayan, who formerly headed the Washington state ACLU Technology and Liberty Project.
Narayan sees a grim future for people “hemorrhaging” lightly-regulated data to tech companies. Those concerns are related to a lack of transparency surrounding how that data is collected and used.
In Seattle, we saw our own example of this issue recently, when so-called “smart” power meters were installed in homes.
“It used to be that once a month, a person came and just physically read that number off of the side of your house,” Narayan said. “They replaced that with smart meters that are taking that data now every four minutes — multiple times more data than was previously being collected.”
Using AI, those meters can now suss out the regular habits of a homeowner. In a worst-case scenario, the information could be provided to everyone from health care providers to tech companies.
“(It can) not only know whether I’m home or not at a given time. But do I cook my meals on the stove or the microwave? Do I watch TV 14 hours a day? Those things are correlated with healthier or less healthy lifestyles, and wouldn’t my HMO love to know whether I’m the guy that sits on my couch watching TV,” Narayan posited.
In order to preserve data privacy in the future, Narayan recommends reaching out to your local lawmakers, whether they’re Seattle City Councilmembers, or state legislators in Washington.
“Right now, big tech is putting a lot of money into lobbying Olympia,” he cautioned. “They’re putting a lot of money into the process, and that’s causing strange things to happen with these data privacy bills. If you want real data privacy, talk to your legislator and let them know that’s what you want.”
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