As the proud father of two tech-savvy daughters, I have seen first-hand the influence of rapidly evolving technology on children growing up in the digital world. Simply put, the internet is unavoidable in a modern child’s daily life. In fact, the average child has their first smartphone by 10 years old, and by 12, their first social media account. Given technology’s dominance, the need to protect our children online is critical now more than ever.
Internet privacy is one of the largest components of online security. Our leaders in Augusta seemed to recognize its importance this year when they passed privacy legislation with the goal of protecting customer information. However, despite the law’s good intentions, it doesn’t go far enough to actually protect Mainers online.
The problem with the law is what it does not include: the largest offenders of online privacy violations. It only applies to internet service providers but exempts the websites, online services and social media platforms that consistently put consumers’ personal data most at risk.
By ignoring Facebook and Google, our personal information remains no more protected than before.
Big tech companies managed to evade privacy regulations in Maine, but they remain the subject of privacy investigations and scandals at the highest levels. This year alone, Google and YouTube faced national scrutiny and record-breaking fines for illegally collecting the information of children who visited the site, and Facebook was fined $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for mishandling users’ personal information. While it is encouraging that the FTC held these companies accountable following their misconduct, the damage had already been done. Children’s personal information was already at risk. Our leaders must do more to prevent these devastating violations from occurring.
According to recent polling, more than 60 percent of Americans would like to do more to protect their privacy online — but often don’t know where to begin. This is why consumers rely on lawmakers to create uniform and comprehensive protections that apply across the entire internet. The law passed this year gives Mainers a false sense of security while placing the burden on consumers to navigate through varying and confusing privacy agreements — a burden which weighs even heavier on parents.
I commend our leaders for taking first steps toward data security, but they must go further in order to create meaningful and effective privacy protections. Our legislators should look to the leadership of lawmakers in states like Vermont, Delaware, California, Nevada and Oregon who have all passed comprehensive privacy legislation. There is no reason for Mainers to remain vulnerable while our neighbors are protected.
Fortunately, our legislators have the chance to fix this law before it goes into effect in July 2020. They can amend it to include the websites, social media platforms and data brokers that place our data most at risk.
I am hopeful they will do the right thing.
Joe Baldacci is a Bangor attorney and Democratic candidate for Maine Senate District 9.