As the week of the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris ends, it feels like a new chapter in a book we cannot put down is beginning. That is certainly true in the world of privacy, with the regulation of Big Tech being one of the main policy issues the incoming administration and Congress are poised to tackle.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has already expressed confidence that Biden will be an “ally” in the EU’s efforts to better regulate tech firms. As she told CNBC, “Europe is coming forward with these standards, but I am convinced that the United States will be attentively listening because Joe Biden has always been a politician who was cherishing the rules-based order.”
With Democrats now in control of both chambers of Congress, the passage of federal privacy legislation in the U.S. also seems significantly more likely over the next year or two. Indeed, the biggest points of partisan disagreement over federal privacy legislation — preemption and private right of action — may no longer hold back its passage. As Gigi Sohn, distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy, Benton Senior Fellow & Public Advocate, put it recently, “All of these things become much more likely now because Democrats hold the gavel in both houses.” At a minimum, we will likely soon see many more lawmakers take up debates about privacy laws and policies at the federal level.
Signs outside the political realm have also been pointing to an increasing desire among consumers for products that protect their privacy. The popularity of privacy-centric apps, like Telegram and Signal, have surged over the past couple of weeks, especially after WhatsApp announced — and then decided to postpone — an update to its data-sharing policy that generated a global “backlash.” Its competitor Signal picked up an estimated 25 million new users within just days of the announcement. Similarly, the MeWe ad-free social network, which follows its own “Privacy Bill of Rights,” became the second most downloaded app on Google Play and added 2.5 million users this past week “as users flock to privacy-focused apps.” And DuckDuckGo, a privacy-themed search engine, also reported this week that its searches in 2020 were up by 62% from the previous year.
In other major news, covered by IAPP Research Director Caitlin Fennessy, the Biden administration appointed Christopher Hoff to deputy assistant secretary for services, a role within the U.S. Department of Commerce that will be responsible for overseeing the negotiations to create a replacement for the invalidated EU-U.S. Privacy Shield agreement. Reviewing his decade-long career in privacy, she explains, “selecting a seasoned privacy professional for this position seems the obvious choice.”
With the increased focus on privacy by new political incumbents in the U.S., as well as consumers around the globe, this year is already shaping up to be another year of major privacy developments. Given the 2020 we had, the action we have seen on the privacy front so far in 2021 gives me hope that we will enjoy reading this new chapter.
Have a great weekend.
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