Here’s a question that should interest Maine people: Do you want your privacy protected on the internet? Or do you want your privacy to be only partially secure?

To put a finer point on it: Do you want Facebook, Google and others to have free rein when it comes to finding and selling information about you? Or do you want your personal data to be safe from abuse by every company online?

This isn’t a hypothetical. Earlier this year, the state enacted an online privacy law that doesn’t completely protect us because it exempts the online companies that Mainers think of when it comes to threats to their personal information on the internet.

Fortunately, the law doesn’t go into effect until mid 2020, which gives lawmakers plenty of time to fix this mistake and enact strong internet privacy protections.

The past few years have seen story after story of major companies in Silicon Valley abusing the rights of their users across the country. The current law in Maine does not protect us from these practices.

For example, Facebook had a lengthy history of data privacy violations. There were so many that the company agreed to pay an unprecedented $5 billion fine to the federal government. As for Google, it reached a $170 million settlement with the federal government. Why? Because it illegally collected information about pre-teens.

These are just the violations we know about. They show that big tech companies have a cavalier attitude when it comes to user privacy and is an abuse of the trust consumers put in them.

And yet, the law enacted this year in Maine put no boundaries on these companies. It ignored social media sites, search engines, streaming services and other companies with significant access to user data. Instead, the law applied rules to a few specific internet service providers — the companies that bring internet access into our homes, but not the ones that operate the online world itself.

Mainers now have a false sense of security. Officially, the state has a privacy law on the books, yet the practices that concerned people before the law passed were not addressed. It’s up to consumers to figure out, company by company and website by website, who is collecting our data and how it’s being used. This is an impossible task for even the savviest internet user.

Rather than leaving the burden to consumers, lawmakers should require all internet-related companies to follow the same set of rules, giving consumers the protection we deserve. This would give Mainers confidence that our privacy is secure, no matter where we go online — whether surfing the internet or connecting with friends through social media sites.

Is it too much to ask that Maine apply the same privacy standards to every part of the online ecosystem? Other states asked that question, and they took action. Vermont, Delaware, Nevada, Oregon, California — they all enacted uniform privacy rules. Other states are considering similar measures right now, such as New Jersey and New York.

This is one contest where Maine shouldn’t want to stand out. Our privacy shouldn’t be less secure than that of our neighbors in New England or anywhere else. Before the law goes into effect next summer, the Legislature should take up emergency legislation that creates uniform privacy standards.

At the very least, companies should have to disclose the personal information it collects, how it uses that data, and who they share or sell it to. Such rules should apply to every internet company, especially the ones Mainers are most concerned about.

Half-measures aren’t good enough, especially when it comes to online privacy. It’s not too late to enact the kind of meaningful and effective system that Mainers deserve — and demand.

Dana Connors is the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.