A bill being readied by Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Josh Hawley R-Mo., would require large online service providers to give users regular assessments of the monetary value of the data that consumers provide to them.

The senators announced the bill on June 24, and said the measure “will require data harvesting companies such as social media platforms to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers, and how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit.”

“User data increasingly represents one of the most valuable, albeit intangible, assets held by technology firms,” the senators’ announcement said, adding, “shining light on how this data is collected, retained, monetized, and protected, is critical.”

The legislation would apply to “commercial data operators” with more than 100 million monthly active users, and would oblige those operators to “disclose types of data collected as well as regularly provide their users with an assessment of the value of that data,” the senator said. Operators also would be required to file an annual report listing the total value of user data they have collected, and their contracts with third parties involved in data collection.

Significantly, the law would also allow users to delete some or all of the data collected about them, and providers would have to disclose to users “all the ways their data is being used” including uses not directly related to the online service for which the data was originally collected.

“This bipartisan legislation gives consumers control of their data and will show them how much these ‘free’ services actually cost,” Sen. Hawley said in a statement.

“For years, social media companies have told consumers that their products are free to the user. But that’s not true – you are paying with your data instead of your wallet,” said Sen. Warner.

“But the overall lack of transparency and disclosure in this market have made it impossible for users to know what they’re giving up, who else their data is being shared with, or what it’s worth to the platform. Our bipartisan bill will allow consumers to understand the true value of the data they are providing to the platforms, which will encourage competition and allow antitrust enforcers to identify potentially anticompetitive practices,” he said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.