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Hawley Wants To Institute An Internet Do Not Track List For Personal Data

Missouri Attorney General and senatorial candidate Josh Hawley speaks to supporters at a campaign event in Chesterfield on Oct. 29, 2018.
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley has introduced legislation to allow people to opt out of companies tracking them on the internet.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley is introducing legislation that would allow internet users to effectively opt out of having certain data shared with websites.

It’s the GOP senator’s latest salvo in his advocacy against large technology companies, a posture that’s brought Hawley national praise and criticism.

Hawley announced Monday he’s introducing what he calls the “Do Not Track” list. The bill would block online companies from collecting data “beyond what is indispensable to the companies’ online services.” It also bars a website from transferring data to other companies when a user activates Do Not Track unless “the first company is an intended intermediary.”

If Hawley’s bill passes, it would require companies to disclose users’ rights. And it would impose penalties for companies that run afoul of any of the measure’s provisions. Users could sign up for the list either on a web browser or through an application.  

Hawley said in a statement that “big tech companies collect incredible amounts of deeply personal, private data from people without giving them the option to meaningfully consent.”

“The American people didn't sign up for this, so I'm introducing this legislation to finally give them control over their personal information online,” Hawley said.

Since being sworn into office earlier in the year, Hawley has spoken out against big technology companies like Google and Facebook. He recently proposed legislation aimed at banning so-called loot boxes, which video game users buy to obtain a randomized item or advantage. Hawley and other critics contend that practice exposes minors to gambling.

And he also called for a third-party audit of Twitter after an account promoting the film “Unplanned” was suspended.

During his appearance on Politically Speaking last month, Hawley said he was taking a hard-edged posture toward technology companies because “they’re doing incredibly creepy things, they’re being dishonest about it and it’s hurting Missouri families.”

“These companies are the biggest, most powerful companies in the world — maybe in the history of the world,” Hawley said. “Because they collect more personal, private, confidential information on us than anybody ever.”

Members of both political parties have raised concerns about how technology companies track the behavior of internet users. Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg why his company was tracking people who didn’t even have an account on the social media site.

But Hawley’s advocacy hasn’t been universally well received. The Hill reported last month that conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity, were pushing back at what they saw as government intrusion into free speech and private businesses.

Asked last month if his views on technology companies chafed with long-held GOP views against business regulation, Hawley replied: “I’m all for the free market. But the free market depends on free and fair competition.”

“And my worry is that is not what we have now,” Hawley said. “We have these companies that have grown so huge that they’re exerting monopoly power, market concentration. And they’re using that to extract this information without telling us. They’re not really giving us any options. They’re getting rich off it.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.