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Lawmakers roll out proposals to crack down on tech companies

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

Lawmakers are starting to roll out proposals to crack down on tech companies, as more and more concerns about consumer privacy emerge.

This week, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced a bill aimed at protecting people’s privacy online. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced a separate bill that would ban online companies from using “deceptive” practices to convince users to hand over their data.

Blackburn told Yahoo Finance her bill, called the BROWSER Act, would force online platforms to let users “opt in” to share sensitive personal data and “opt out” of sharing non-sensitive data.

“We feel like that is fair, it is a good standard to set and that gives the consumer the opportunity to say that they at one point or another point in this process -- they make the choice as to what they want shared,” said Blackburn.

Blackburn previously introduced the bill when she served in the U.S. House, but is now introducing it in the Senate.

“It has taken five years to get people moving in the right direction on this,” she said.

Blackburn and several other lawmakers met with the EU’s Consumer Protection Commissioner Věra Jourová this week to discuss data privacy.

“I am glad to see that there are serious ideas about federal privacy law. Europe is ready to share our experience with GDPR,” said Jourová in a tweet.

“It’s important for them [the EU] to know what we are going to do,” said Blackburn. “We did not go first [in implementing privacy regulations], but I think now they’re wanting to make certain we get something on the books.

Blackburn told Yahoo Finance she thinks Congress will finally act on some sort of privacy legislation this year.

“You have some states and even some cities that are beginning to put privacy rules in place, but the issue is you have interstate commerce and...the internet doesn’t know when it runs into the state line. You need to exercise federal preemption on this,” said Blackburn.

The Internet Association, which represents dozens of tech companies including Facebook, Amazon, AirBnB told Yahoo Finance it wants to see users have more rights and control over their own data.

“While we have concerns with the BROWSER Act as introduced – particularly because the bill does not protect consumer privacy both online and offline – we appreciate Sen. Blackburn’s shared commitment to strong federal privacy legislation. We look forward to continuing the discussion with Sen. Blackburn and all other stakeholders to find a uniquely American approach to privacy,” said the Internet Association General Counsel Elizabeth Banker.

But Blackburn warned against putting too many regulations in place.

“There should be light touch regulation and then the government should get out of the way,” said Blackburn.

After a slew of scandals, including charges of housing discrimination, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently called on lawmakers to establish rules for the internet.

Blackburn and other critics have questioned Zuckerberg’s intentions.

“I think Zuckerberg’s conversion to privacy is a little bit disingenuous,” Blackburn said. “Of course, they have to comply with GDPR and now what he is saying is more government interventions are better because it keeps new interests out -- that’s the way I read it.”

Lawmakers are discussing a larger data privacy framework, but have not yet revealed what ideas might make it into the final legislation.

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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