Coalition of Privacy-Conscious Websites Launch Global Internet Privacy Program

By Elijah Labby Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Last week, a group of privacy-conscious online companies, including Brave and DuckDuckGo, introduced the Global Privacy Control Standard (GPCS), which aims to protect data privacy across the internet.

Over a dozen organizations have expressed support for the GPCS, which works by allowing users to select which data they would like to share and automatically telling websites the user’s privacy preferences. Previously, this required users to input their preferences for each individual website, but newly-passed consumer privacy laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe's General Data Protection Regulation allows the settings to apply across the web.

"The CCPA was landmark legislation for consumer privacy protection, but the consumer rights outlined were complicated to enforce," says Rob Shavell, CEO of Abine. "As a result, the industry has relied upon this "nothing will happen in practice" understanding to avoid both real investment and real change. The launch of GPC and associated technology aims to change this status quo."

While the GPCS is currently only applicable for California users, nationwide legislation could change that. Several sitting congressmen have called for laws like California’s, such as Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, who introduced the Mind Your Own Business Act in 2019.

The bill would establish a national standard for privacy practices across the web, and allow users to view the data a website keeps on them, as well as allocate additional funding to the Federal Trade Commission and enact steep penalties for companies that knowingly lie to the FTC, including jail.

“You know, my sense is that Mark Zuckerberg is not going to take American’s privacy seriously unless he and others in these positions face personal consequences,” Wyden said in an interview with WIRED.

The approach is a strong one — far stronger than the GPCS — but Wyden sees it as a means of establishing internet privacy advanced by the CCPA and the GPCS nationwide.

“It's past time to give consumers a *real* and enforceable way to stop companies from tracking and selling their data. My Mind Your Own Business Act would do just that, and this project shows it’s possible,” Wyden tweeted.

The project has garnered enthusiasm from companies as well, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Consumer Reports, and Automattic.

While both Brave and DuckDuckGo have announced plans to enable the technology within their browsers, one privacy-focused browser, Mozilla’s Firefox, has not. It is unclear why the browser has not committed to the project beyond a tentative show of support, but Selena Deckelmann, Vice President of Firefox Desktop, said the company was excited about the GPCS’s prospects.

“Mozilla is pleased to support the Global Privacy Control initiative,” she said. “People’s data rights must be recognized and respected, and this is a step in the right direction. We look forward to working with the rest of the web standards community to bring these protections to everyone.”

Firefox comprises nearly 9% of the desktop browser market, with DuckDuckGo and Brave far behind. Google’s Chrome web browser dominates the space, with nearly 70% market share.

However, it is unlikely that large, ad-supported tech companies like Google will adopt the standards, which would cripple the data collection that drives their advertising platform.

In large part, these ads are what enabled Google to join fellow tech giants Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft as one of the few global companies whose net worth exceeds $1 trillion.

Google has repeatedly been accused of violating privacy regulations abroad and has faced substantial punishments for doing so. In 2019, Google ran afoul of the GDPR, for which France fined them nearly $57 million for a “lack of transparency, inadequate information, and lack of valid consent regarding ads personalization.” In response, Google said they were evaluating their next steps.

“People expect high standards of transparency and control from us. We’re deeply committed to meeting those expectations and the consent requirements of the GDPR,” the statement read.

Legal backing behind Do Not Track requests are a means of keeping such companies accountable, and California's Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he is encouraged to see nationwide support for the initiative.

“This proposed standard is a first step towards a meaningful global privacy control that will make it simple and easy for consumers to exercise their privacy rights online,” Becerra tweeted. “#DataPrivacy is the future, and I am heartened to see a wave of innovation in this space.”

About the Author

Headshot of Elijah Labby

Elijah Labby is a graduate of the National Journalism Center. He has previously written for Broadband Breakfast, a technology and internet policy website.

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