Amazon warns onerous privacy regulations could hinder innovation in Senate hearing

Executives representing some of America’s biggest tech companies testify before Senate Commerce Committee. (Screenshot via C-SPAN)

Amazon and other tech titans have accepted the reality that a federal data privacy law is on the horizon. To help shape what the regulations look like, Amazon, Apple, ATT, Google, Twitter, and Charter sent representatives to Washington, D.C. to testify before a Senate committee on privacy Wednesday.

“The question is no longer whether we need a federal law to protect consumers privacy,” said Sen. John Thune during the hearing. “The question is what shape will that law take?”

In rare public remarks on how Amazon treats consumer data, the company’s general counsel, Andrew DeVore, cautioned senators to ensure that the regulations actually accomplish the goal of consumer protection.

DeVore said in his prepared statement that the European Union’s comprehensive new General Data Protection Regulation, “required us to divert significant resources to administrative and record-keeping tasks and away from inventing new features for customers and our core mission of providing better service, more selection, and lower prices.”

However, he also noted that “our long-standing commitment to privacy aligned us well with the GDPR principles.”

Amazon appeared more concerned with California’s new Consumer Privacy Act because the law defines personal information as any data that could be linked to a person, including IP addresses, browser history, and geolocation data.

“The result is a law that is not only confusing and difficult to comply with, but that may actually undermine important privacy-protective practices like encouraging companies to handle data in a way that is not directly linked to a consumer’s identity,” DeVore said.

Amazon contends that it is more effective to define personal information as data that can be used to identify a person, like email addresses and phone numbers.

“We encourage Congress to ensure that additional overhead and administrative demands any legislation might require, actually produce commensurate consumer privacy benefits,” DeVore said.

The hearing Wednesday reflects growing scrutiny of Silicon Valley by Washington, D.C. Big tech companies have been in the political crosshairs over the past year for a range of scandals, including high-profile data leaks, misinformation and harassment, and their role in foreign election interference. President Donald Trump has specifically targeted Amazon on numerous occasions, claiming the company exploits the U.S. Postal Service and uses the newspaper its CEO owns to push a political agenda.

More recently, Republicans have accused Google and Facebook of bias that favors liberal content, a concern raised by Sen. Ted Cruz during the hearing Wednesday.

“I have never seen any evidence of bias,” said Google Chief Privacy Officer Keith Enright. Cruz pressed him, asking whether he was aware of any efforts to assess whether Google search results favored liberal content.

“As chief privacy officer of Google I am not aware of such efforts,” Enright said.

Watch the full hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee here.

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