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October 27, 2023

Issue 27: Just some things I think you should know, really

Oh hey! Welcome to The Privacy Beat Newsletter!

Here’s the gist: Come here for insights on the hottest topics in privacy according to our peers’ tweets so you can walk into any happy hour or team meeting and sound like the absolute baller you are. No current topic gets by you!

Biden gives regulating AI a try

Today, Oct. 30, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on artificial intelligence. I know we inwardly groan at the mere mention of AI at this point. It’s not our fault! We can only take so much. Of late, it’s mentioned with a frequency akin to my mother’s dispatches on how important collagen is for my body. (To be clear, it’s constant.) But this is a big deal because we’re already racing behind AI’s deployment. The train has left the station. The genie has left the bottle. So any potential harms this order aims to thwart are more than likely already occurring. We need some rules around here.

The order covers a wide range of topics, which are then broken down into the specific actions Biden is directing. The administration went intentionally broad here, according to a press call on Oct. 29. As NBC News reports, “AI policy is like running into a decathlon, and there’s 10 different events here,” the official said. “And we don’t have the luxury of just picking ‘we’re just going to do safety’ or ‘we’re just going to do equity’ or ‘we’re just going to do privacy.’ You have to do all of these things.”

The topics:

  • New standards for AI safety and security.
  • Protecting Americans’ privacy.
  • Advancing equity and rights.
  • Standing up for consumers, patients, and students.
  • Supporting workers.
  • Promoting innovation and competition.
  • Advancing American leadership abroad.
  • Ensuring responsible and effective government use of AI.

I know, yawn. Gov’t speak. But there’s some privacy stuff in there worth knowing about, including that the guidance calls for a federal privacy law, and government agencies will now have to reassess how they collect and use public information – including from data brokers. For more on this, though it's still early reactions-wise, check out Odia Kagan's LinkedIn post here. It may help you start thinking about what applies to you.

A whole lot of attorneys general are super mad at Meta

Last week, NPR (and everyone else) reported that a group of more than 40 states sued Meta for "designing products that are deliberately addictive and fuel the youth mental health crises," the report states.

The attorneys general call Meta's features "dopamine-manipulating" and claim they've "poisoned an entire generation's mental health" with their addictive algorithms.

The lawsuits, which seem likely to head toward settlements, ask a judge to declare Meta's design features unlawful under state's consumer protection laws and seek to incite changes to Facebook and Instagram in the name of child safety.

A Facebook spokesperson said, "We're disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path."

FTC to hire a child psychologist, sock puppets TBD

In an interview with The Record, FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya says the agency will hire at least one child psychologist to help it understand the mental health risks teens and children face as they spend much of their lives on social media sites.

Bedoya said becoming a parent himself helped him wake him up to the fact that “the fire alarm was going off, the lights were blinking red,” and he wants to know more about the techniques platforms use to keep minors tethered to their services.

It’s not a novel approach, he explains. In the ‘80s, the FTC realized its staff of lawyers needed an economist to expertly explain antitrust and consumer protection violations’ impact on the economy. Now there are 80 economists on staff. In the 2000s, the agency realized it needed tech experts to go “head-to-head with major technology companies,” and now it has a dozen full-time technologists on staff.

Bedoya said the research indicates children are struggling with compulsively using social media, feelings of inadequacy, and a lack of sleep.

“If you’re presented with research alleging an increase in depressive symptoms … do I have the ability to differentiate between a mental health harm … and a child who is sad? There’s a difference between those things, but I am not expert enough to know that difference.”

An expert who can help differentiate can contribute to “the question of harm’s causation. And it’s valuable for the question of damages,” he said.

Announcing privacy’s (potential) Batman and Robin?

For years now, privacy activist Max Schrems has been a Problem (that’s not a typo) for Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Schrems’ complaints about what he perceives as Dixon’s weak enforcement on the GDPR have pervaded for years, inciting scrutiny by major media outlets, including The New York Times, as well as parliamentary hearings.

But is it possible that now, as the Spice Girls once sang, two become one?

Schrems has announced he recently submitted an application to serve as Irish Data Protection Commissioner! What a time to be alive. Can you imagine? I love this idea so much. And, I have to imagine that application gets lost in the mail.

To be clear, Schrems isn't applying to replace Dixon, whose second term as DPC comes to an end next year. The DPC is in the process of expanding its leadership from one commissioner to three to keep up with demand. The application period closed on Oct. 19. Meanwhile, Silicon Republic reports that Dixon will shift to become chair of the DPC.

Perhaps it’s possible Dixon and Schrems become a duo as historic as peanut butter & jelly? Burt & Ernie? Laverne & Shirley? Gah, I can see the Christmas card now.

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