Protecting Your Personal Data


with John Verdi from the Future of Privacy Forum


Aug 06, 2018

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, only 10 percent of consumers feel they have complete control over their personal information, while 25 percent believe most companies handle their personal data responsibly. Can businesses be trusted to protect your personal information?

John Verdi, Vice President of Policy at Future of Privacy Forum, joins Sheila Hyland to talk about the importance of data privacy laws, including new legislation in California, which aim to empower consumers.

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: In June, one month after the Europe Union enacted the General Data Protection Regulation, California legislators passed the nation´s strongest data-privacy laws, which will impact the way tech companies collect and use your personal data. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. Joining me is John Verdi. He is Vice President of Policy at Future of Privacy Forum, and, John, thank you so much for being here. My first question to you is, why do we need data-privacy laws to protect us?

Verdi: Well, I think consumers understand that data-driven products and services provide tremendous benefits online and offline. At the same time, they quite naturally worry that their data´s being used or sold in ways that they don´t expect. They ask, "Is my data being used to price insurance? Are my driving habits being recorded and sold on the market and might impact me in ways I don´t expect? Are companies or individuals using my personal data to try to influence the way I vote during election season?" Those are all reasonable concerns, and data-protection laws can provide basic common-sense guardrails for protecting individuals´ sensitive data.

Hyland: Well, how much, and what kinds of our personal data are being collected? And then what are businesses doing with it when they collect that data?

Verdi: You know, its´ a great question, and it´s a really huge question. The truth is, there´s a great diversity of data that´s being collected by various actors in the commercial space in the US and around the world. Some of these companies are small companies in your town. Some of these companies are global multinationals that collect data to provide online services and communication services. But the thing that I think links all of this data collection and all of this use is the question of what consumers expect when they sign up for a social-media service, when they sign up for a grocery-store loyalty card. What do they expect will be done with their data, and is it being used in ways that are consistent with their understanding?

Hyland: So the California law is trying to address some of those questions. Takes effect in 2020. Why is this considered one of the toughest or the toughest regulation to be passed in the entire country?

Verdi: Well, first of all, the California law´s relatively recent. Second, on the substance, it provides concrete rights for individuals to opt out of certain data sales to have an opt-in requirement for certain sensitive uses of data. And it also provides a private right of action in cases of data breach. So the California law is a game-changer for consumers in California. I think it´s also potentially something that will kick-start a broader conversation in Washington and around the country about consumer rights around data protection.

Hyland: And what do you see as the ripple effects of that, and do you expect that to happen very soon with other states and on Capitol Hill?

Verdi: Well, first, it´s important to understand that companies that do business in California, that have California customers, if they process a lot of data, if they sell a lot of data, if they make a fair amount of money off of data sales, they´re probably going to be covered by the California law, whether their headquarters is technically in California or not, right? So the California law´s gonna have a particular impact even beyond the borders of California. At the same time, I think other states are looking to California and asking themselves, "Is this the sort of law that´s appropriate for us?" Now, there´s some things in the law that have been criticized by companies as unworkable, that´s been criticized by some advocates.

Hyland: Some of the loopholes, for instance, yes. It´s true technology companies can still use some of your personal data?

Verdi: Sure. Absolutely. So the California law is not designed to prevent technology companies from using data. Technology companies use data every day to provide innovative products and services to consumers, products and services that consumers ask for and that they deeply value. At the same time, the California law does place privacy guardrails on some of the uses of that data, particularly around data sales. And I think other states are looking to California to decide whether this particular approach is appropriate. I don´t think there´s any question that folks on Capitol Hill are also looking to California and asking the question, is it a good result for companies and for consumers for a patchwork of state laws to give slightly different rights, slightly different remedies to Americans depending on which state they live in?

Hyland: And how is the Future of Privacy Forum working to ensure our safety and privacy online and our data, keeping our data safe?

Verdi: Well, we have a number of work streams. One of the things that we do is we work with companies and privacy advocates and academics and policy makers to develop common-sense privacy safeguards. Sometimes these take the form of a code of conduct where companies in a particular business sector will sign on and make promises that are enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission. Sometimes these take the form of best practices at guidance, which can help inform the rollout of new technologies. In other circumstances, we provide education to companies, to policy makers, to consumers about how they can best manage how their data is collected, used, and shared.

Hyland: All right, it´ll be interesting to see what happens in the future and as the California law rolls out in 2020.

Verdi: I agree.

Hyland: John Verdi with Future of Privacy Forum. Thank you so much for joining us.

Verdi: Thank you, Sheila.

Hyland: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Sheila Hyland.

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