The importance of well-crafted federal privacy protections to startups

The national debate over consumer privacy will have a significant and lasting impact on the small businesses that comprise the U.S. startup ecosystem.

That’s why today’s hearing on small business perspectives on privacy, held by the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, is so important. The hearing included testimony from Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom.

As Evan said in his testimony, both consumers and startups support strong privacy regulations that provide greater user choice and transparency, and prohibit abusive data practices. A comprehensive national privacy framework, crafted constructively to promote competition, will provide the most beneficial consumer privacy protections.

In order to accomplish this goal, policymakers must ensure that any federal framework balances pro-privacy regulations with feasible requirements for startups on bootstrap budgets. When the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation went into effect last year, many small startups left European markets or scaled back growth in order to avoid costly compliance burdens. U.S. policymakers should be mindful of GDPR’s collateral damage as they consider a similar national data privacy policy.  

Lawmakers should also learn from the mistakes of the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), which contains vague obligations, contradictions, and security loopholes after being rushed through the legislature. A carefully crafted national privacy framework that supersedes state laws would provide greater certainty for both startups and consumers.

Users should have the right to access, correct, and delete their data, and objectionable uses of personal data—such as utilizing protected characteristics to make decisions about finance, housing, or employment opportunities—should be restricted. We also believe consumers should have greater control over their personal information through a notice and consent regime that includes robust transparency and accountability requirements, and policymakers should work to heighten protections for truly sensitive personal data,

Federal policymakers have the opportunity to improve upon the more laudable aspects of CCPA to create a national privacy standard that protects consumers and encourages sound data practices. At the same time, it’s critical for Congress to move forward in a way that does not put startups at a competitive disadvantage to large Internet companies.

Read Evan’s full testimony here.