US online privacy rules unlikely this year, hurting big tech

Updated 30 September 2019

US online privacy rules unlikely this year, hurting big tech

  • The delay is a setback for Amazon, Facebook, Google and retailers like Walmart

WASHINGTON: A US online privacy bill is not likely to come before Congress this year, sources said, as lawmakers disagree over issues like whether the bill should preempt state rules, forcing companies to deal with much stricter legislation in California that goes into effect on Jan. 1.

Without a federal law, technology companies, retailers, advertising firms and others dependent on collecting consumer data to track users and increase sales must adapt to the California law, potentially harming corporate profits over the long term.

The delay is a setback for companies ranging from Amazon and Facebook Inc. to Alphabet Inc.’s Google and retailers like Walmart Inc., who either directly collect shopper information to run their websites, or provide free services and derive revenues from advertising that relies on online data collection.

“This will be tremendously challenging ... companies need to really focus on complying with California now because there is not going to be a life raft from a federal level,” said Gary Kibel, a partner specializing in technology and privacy at law firm Davis & Gilbert.

While the sources, who are involved in the negotiations, still think it is possible at least one discussion draft of the bill could land before the year ends, congressional negotiators must still agree on whether it is adequate to simply ask consumers to consent to collection of personally identifiable information and give them the opportunity to opt out and how the new law would be enforced.

They are also negotiating how much information should be deemed private and where one should draw the line in terms of exchange of consumer information with third parties, the sources said.

The effort to draft a federal bill is being led by Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal, Brian Schatz and Maria Cantwell along with Republican Senators Jerry Moran, Commerce Committee chairman Roger Wicker and the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Thune.

Sources said Senators Blumenthal and Moran’s staff are working on the federal bill and expected to release a draft before the end of the year. They said a draft of the House version of the bill could land in a few weeks.

California’s data privacy law will affect any major company with an online presence and requires companies with data on more than 50,000 people to allow consumers to view the data they have collected on them. It also lets consumers request deletion of data, and opt out of having the data sold to third parties. Each violation carries a $7,500 fine. Companies are also waiting for the state attorney general to roll out regulations around the law in California.

While it is only meant to protect California consumers, it is not known whether companies adapt their business practices to work under one set of rules for the most populous US state, and existing rules for the other 49 states.

“California will go into effect without Congress doing anything this year on the federal bill,” said a source with direct knowledge of the matter, who did not wish to be named and is pushing for a federal privacy bill. “That’s a big problem because of the business impact this will have,” the source said.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. Google and Amazon declined comment. President & CEO Michael Beckerman of the Internet Association, which counts Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft as its members, said in a statement that there is broad bipartisan consensus for a federal privacy law and urged Congress to act on it now.

Walmart did not comment and referred Reuters to the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). Nicholas Ahrens, a vice president at RILA, which counts Walmart as a member, said the group is continuing to work with Congress toward  federal legislation and is hopeful a bipartisan solution can be reached.

Despite the immediate delay, the privacy bill remains one of the few pieces of legislation that many lobbyists still believe has a decent chance of becoming law because it is a bipartisan concern and does not cost taxpayers money.


Photojournalism key to promoting tolerance in digital age, world summit told

Updated 13 November 2019

Photojournalism key to promoting tolerance in digital age, world summit told

  • Fact checking essential in a media increasingly reliant on citizen journalism
  • Increasing risk of falling foul of what some call 'fake news'

DUBAI: Every picture tells a story and with the rise of digital media the camera may be a journalist’s only tool to accurately convey information while playing a role in promoting tolerance among the masses.

Sharing this view was a panel of journalists and media professionals speaking at the World Tolerance Summit being held at the Madinat Jumeirah resort in Dubai between Nov. 13 and 14.

Exploring tolerance practices from around the world under the theme “Tolerance in Multiculturalism: Achieving the Social, Economic and Humane Benefits of a Tolerant World,” the summit’s second edition was expected to gather 3,000 participants from more than 100 countries, including top-level officials, peace experts, diplomats and youth.

Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi, editor-in-chief of Sayidaty, Arrajol, and Al-Jamila magazines, kicked off the first day of the conference by calling on media outlets to enhance their approach to the delivery of news through frequent on-the-ground reporting and visual material.

In an era of citizen journalism and social media influencers, news media outlets have often been blamed for playing a key role in spreading false information and reporting fake news.

To combat this perception, Al-Harthi said print and digital media must elevate their standards by incorporating fact-checking tools into their day-to-day reporting.

“We must also identify the people affected in news stories in order to impact readers and bring them back to values such as tolerance. If there is no camera, there is no news,” he added.

Al-Harthi noted the importance of adopting platforms such as social media that allow news outlets to engage with their audience, creating a channel to exchange views and feedback. He pointed to Sayidaty magazine’s 2013 “White Campaign” against child brides as an example of positive use of social media to encourage the “voiceless” to tell their stories.

The campaign reached more than 42 million people in the Arab world, gaining the support of members of the Saudi royal family, government officials, journalists and NGOs from throughout the region.

Running for a period of three months, it focused on countries known to previously tolerate child marriages such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen, with the goal of pressurizing governments to increase the minimum age for marriage and criminalize sexual abuse.

“This was one of the most successful campaigns carried out by the media as we were able to stop five marriages involving children in three countries,” said Al-Harthi.

Commenting on the power of images and video in news reporting, Anelise Borges, Paris-based correspondent for Euronews France, described social media as a “double-edged sword.”

She said: “The entire world is struggling to find a balance between freedom of speech and responsibility and accountability.”

Borges talked about her 10-day experience onboard the Aquarius, a vessel operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, capturing human stories of men, women and children who risked everything to reach Europe in search of a better life.

Sailing across the Mediterranean, Borges witnessed the rescue of two rubber boats overcrowded with refugees who had travelled long distances to escape the violence of war.

“We had seen these migrants as victims, poor people, and masses without names or faces. I wanted to go there and see who we are talking about and let them speak for themselves,” said Borges.

With the issue of migrants and refugees considered a major crisis in Europe, Borges pointed out that it was their voices that were “missing in the conversation” among governments today.

Through raw images and videos documenting distressing stories of struggle, Borges said she was able to explain to viewers and decision-makers the impact their choices and decisions were having on migrants.

“Our job as journalists is to tell a story, which only works through engagement and conversation with the people involved,” she said, stressing the importance of empathy. “It is not us versus them anymore.”

Sharing the same views, panelist Mohammed Khairy, a director and producer with Saint Films in Egypt, discussed his efforts to raise awareness about Christian Egyptians through his film “Jesus was here.” 

Traveling around the country to identify different sects of Christians, he documented individual stories, reflecting their struggles from a “cinematic perspective.”

In his documentary, he sheds light on the history of Christianity in Egypt, with hopes to influence intolerant views in the society of the “so-called minority” group.

“As a film director, you put a lot of effort into research and fact-checking and verifying information whether it’s from a book, a person, or a verified source,” said Khairy, commenting on the challenges facing journalists in the news industry. “At times, the process in film can take up to a year to finalize,” he added.