with Aaron Schaffer

Virginia is poised to pass a privacy law — highlighting how a patchwork of rules is emerging across the country in the absence of federal action by Congress. 

The legislation allows residents of the commonwealth to opt out of targeting their data and the sale of their data, similar to California's law. They could also obtain the data that companies have collected about them, and correct or delete it.  

The bill was passed by the state's House of Delegates and Senate, and it's expected to move to the governor's desk as early as this month after a reconciliation process. Known as the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, the legislation would take effect in 2023. Amazon, Microsoft and tech industry trade groups have backed the bill. 

Virginia Delegate Cliff Hayes Jr., who introduced the House bill, said the proposal was influenced by Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation and other state privacy efforts – and that Virginians need these protections in the absence of action in Washington. 

“Who needs to worry about hackers when we’re giving away and selling consumers’ private identifiable information?” Hayes said in an interview. “We just want to make sure that we’re protecting the consumers’ data privacy rights.”

Virginia's move could increase pressure on Washington lawmakers to address privacy. 

Debates about federal privacy legislation have sputtered amid partisan fights over how federal laws should be enforced – even though members of both parties have said Congress should ensure consumers’ privacy rights are protected. The action at the state level could put more pressure on industry groups to work with national lawmakers to advance privacy legislation to ensure they don’t have to deal with the headaches of complying with different laws in each state. 

Washington state is resuming debate on its own proposal. Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma and others are also weighing proposals. 

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who is a former venture capitalist and active on tech issues, said that he is “excited” about the recent legislative activity in his home state. 

“These efforts only heighten the need for a federal framework on digital privacy and consumer protection, incorporating not just traditional privacy protections  but also measures on things like dark patterns,” Warner said. 

Warner has introduced legislation called the DETOUR Act, which would address tactics that tech companies use to trick people into handing over data. But despite the calls for action, passing comprehensive privacy legislation would be an uphill battle in a deeply polarized 50-50 Senate — especially when lawmakers are also addressing the pandemic, economic crisis, and impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump. 

Privacy advocates have raised concerns about shortcomings of the Virginia legislation. 

The Virginia state law notably does not allow individuals to sue companies for violating their policy rights – which privacy advocates have pushed lawmakers to include in federal legislation. 

Recently a group of privacy advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Consumer Reports, wrote a letter to Virginia lawmakers asking them to beef up protections so that the bill is at least as strong as California's law, which took effect in 2020. Among their requests is the addition of tools to allow consumers more easily opt out of data collection practices from multiple companies. 

Hayes told me he hopes to consider such proposals in the future, but he argued that Virginia lawmakers need to move to ensure consumers have some protection now. 

He also wants delegates to consider legislation down the line that would specifically address data privacy concerns related to artificial intelligence and facial recognition. He said that based on debates in other states, he decided to begin with building a basic framework to protect consumers. 

“We learned that some of the other states were trying to take on so much, that in the timeframe you have to pass legislation it bogs it down,” he said. 

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TikTok is not free from government oversight under the Biden administration — yet.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is planning to evaluate the risks to U.S. data from TikTok and other companies, Rachel Lerman reports for The Technology 202.

TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance had been told to divest from the streaming video app in the United States by an order signed by Trump last year after a review from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which scrutinizes technology for national security concerns. That order was delayed in November and hasn't moved forward. But CFIUS is still looking at the company and its data practices, Psaki said in a news briefing.

There is a rigorous CFIUS process that is ongoing, she said.

The Biden administration also requested a federal court place a TikTok lawsuit on hold Wednesday. TikTok has been challenging a separate Trump executive order that would effectively have banned the app in the United States.

As the Biden administration has taken office, the Department of Commerce has begun a review of certain recently issued agency actions, including the Secretary’s prohibitions regarding the TikTok mobile application at issue in this appeal, the new administration wrote to the court. A review of the prohibitions at issue here may narrow the issues presented or eliminate the need for this Court’s review entirely.

Psaki appeared to dispute a Wall Street Journal report from the day before that a TikTok deal to work with U.S. companies Oracle and Walmart was shelved indefinitely.

It’s not accurate to suggest that there is a new proactive step by the Biden White House, she said.

Trump and his allies targeted TikTok last year and ordered the app to be banned on national security grounds, suggesting that TikTok could be sharing U.S. user information with the Chinese government. TikTok was never banned and is still challenging that order in courts. The company has insisted it does not share information with Beijing. 

Brad Parscale is building Trump’s post-2020 digital operation.

Trump's ex-campaign manager is responsible for recent email blasts with public statements and legal briefs for his impeachment trial, Insider’s Tom LoBianco reports. After being booted off Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Trump is more reliant on Parscale — who also built his new website 45office.com — than ever.

Trump last summer demoted Parscale, but the Trump family realized they needed Parscale's assistance to access the Trump campaign's digital operation because he built it from scratch and housed it on his own computer servers. 

“They didn't realize what they had gotten into,” one of the Republicans familiar with Parscale's return told Insider. “They said, 'You're fired. Okay, great, see you later.' Then asked, 'Who's running the email?' 'The guy you just fired.' 'How do we fix that?' You gotta go back to that guy.”

Parscale has been working to rehabilitate his career since he was detained last year by police after his wife raised concerns that he was drunk and suicidal. Trump remains angry at Parscale, and it's unclear whether he knows that Parscale built and maintains the entire digital operation — down to people's email addresses, Tom reports. 

Facebook is building a competitor to audio app Clubhouse.

The project is in its earliest stages, the New York Times’s Mike Isaac reports. It comes as Clubhouse gains momentum inside and outside Silicon Valley.

Clubhouse is still invite-only though, and is believed to have picked up as many as 2 million installs in the first week of February. 

In recent weeks, the app has gotten high-profile, buzzy guests such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even made an appearance last week, prompting questions about Facebook’s plans to acquire or copy the app. 

The social media giant has a history of acquiring or replicating its competitors, which has led to antitrust scrutiny from regulators who say it tried to illegally overpower its rivals. Facebook purchased Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus as buzzy start-ups, boosting its user base. As antitrust scrutiny has grown, so has the company's defense, with it increasing its lobbying, hiring of top antitrust lawyers and launch of a slew of internal initiatives focused on competition.

In a statement, Facebook spokeswoman Emilie Haskell said that “we’ve been connecting people through audio and video technologies for many years and are always exploring new ways to improve that experience for people.” 

But Clubhouse’s limitations are also center stage:

Rant and rave

A pair of magazine covers featuring Apple CEO Tim Cook are getting online buzz:

Others have been more sarcastic:

Inside the Industry

Hill happenings

Senators ask Bezos about $10 million deal with camera company that can recognize Uighurs.

In their letter to Bezos, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) ask about Amazon's $10 million deal with Dahua Technology, which has supplied Amazon thermal cameras to monitor employees. They also pressed Bezos on when the outgoing CEO became aware of Dahua's participation in China’s Uighur surveillance system. (Bezos owns The Post.) 

The letter comes after reports that Dahua’s software purports to identify the races of people on camera and alerts authorities when it identifies Uighurs. In their letter, the senators asked Bezos for more information about Amazon’s human rights criteria for companies with which it has business relationships. 

Inside the industry

Top chip CEOs ask Biden to fund semiconductor incentives.

AMD CEO Lisa Su, Intel CEO Bob Swan, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf and others are asking Biden to fund the incentives for semiconductor research in his “Build Back Better” infrastructure and economic recovery plan. 

In their letter, they write: “We therefore urge you to include in your recovery and infrastructure plan substantial funding for incentives for semiconductor manufacturing, in the form of grants and/or tax credits, and for basic and applied semiconductor research. We believe bold action is needed to address the challenges we face. The costs of inaction are high.”

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  • Meghan DiMuzio, a senior vice president of public affairs at Forbes Tate Partners, has been named the first executive director of the Coalition for App Fairness, a coalition of app developers that has sparred with Apple.

Daybook

  • Former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is a co-chair of Facebook's oversight board, and the board's communications director, Dex Hunter-Torricke, discuss its first set of decisions at an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace today at 11:30 a.m.
  • Executives of Robinhood and two hedge funds are expected to testify at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on GameStop and market volatility at noon on Feb. 18.

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