* New York Times…
Illinois legislators are considering a “right to know” bill that would let consumers find out what information about them is collected by companies like Google and Facebook, and what kinds of businesses they share it with. Such a right, which European consumers already have, has been a longtime goal of privacy advocates.
Two other proposals face a crucial Illinois House committee vote this week. One would regulate when consumers’ locations can be tracked by smartphone applications, and another would limit the use of microphones in internet-connected devices like mobile phones, smart TVs and personal assistants like Amazon’s Echo.
Should they be passed into law, these rules could end up guiding the rights of consumers far beyond Illinois — because they would provide a model for other states, and because it would be difficult for technology companies with hundreds of millions of users to create a patchwork of state- and country-specific features to localize their effects.
Congress is pushing to overturn regulations imposed by the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration that limit the collection of data by broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast. The Senate approved the rollback last week, and the House is expected to follow this week.
OK, sounds good.
* Now, scroll way down…
Illinois also has another dimension: class-action lawyers… (L)awyers at Edelson PC, a Chicago-based class-action firm that has become notorious among tech companies for its prolific filing of privacy suits, have gone on offense with a lobbying campaign of their own. Firm lawyers have also helped found a new nonprofit group, the Digital Privacy Alliance, as an advocate for privacy legislation in Illinois and elsewhere.
Go check out the front group’s website and you’ll see they’re behind this “Right to know” bill, among other legislation in a package being pushed at the Statehouse.
* From another NY Times story on Edelson and his firm…
[Edelson’s] firm, which is based in Chicago, has become one of the most prolific filers of privacy class actions, a growing legal area that tech companies describe with a litany of unprintable terms. Asked to sum up the tech community’s feelings about Mr. Edelson, Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, a technology incubator that invests in very young companies, said the lawyer was regarded as “a leech tarted up as a freedom fighter.” […]
The firm started suing technology companies in the early 2000s, before data privacy was a national debate. Mr. Edelson claims to have won more than $1 billion in settlements in all, a number that is difficult to confirm because many of those agreements are private. Today he views these cases the same way Apple views its collection of iPhones and other iThings: as a line of products to be refined, repackaged and resold. Text messages are a product line. Online video is a product line.
Edelson PC contributed about $100,000 during the campaign last year, focusing on the two Democratic legislative leaders.
* Look, you won’t get an argument from me against prohibiting bad conduct and protecting consumers from real problems. And I intend no offense to Mr. Edelson and his firm - you gotta do what you gotta do (and he’s stopped some pretty egregious practices over the years). But Chicago now has a thriving tech community. Let’s not screw things up with a new state law that let’s them be sued into oblivion by trial lawyers.
Most of the bills in this package have now been amended to limit rights of action to simple injunctive relief. They all started out allowing for things like attorney’s fees and damages. At least one bill still has that language, however.
Keep it limited.