At Commerce Committee hearing, Senator Reverend Warnock questioned consumer privacy and civil rights experts about how unfettered data collection can infringe on Georgians’ civil rights and prevent equal access to economic opportunities
Senator Warnock reaffirmed his commitment to protecting the rights and privacy of all Georgia consumers
Senator Reverend Warnock: “While all of us are affected by privacy violations, [that harm] can fall unequally across communities. We’ve seen historically how marginalized communities or historically marginalized communities particularly suffer from tech companies unchecked data collection and use”
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***Watch Senator Reverend Warnock’s exchange HERE***
Washington, D.C. – Today, during a Commerce Committee hearing on the importance of protecting consumer privacy, U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) emphasized his commitment to protecting privacy of Georgians across the state. Senator Warnock emphasized how unfettered data collection can infringe on Georgians’ civil rights and create barriers to jobs and housing.
During his questioning of hearing witnesses David Vladeck, Chair of Civil Procedure & Faculty Director at the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law and Ashkan Soltani, a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Technology Law & Policy and the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, Senator Warnock inquired about how historically marginalized communities suffer, disproportionately, from tech companies’ unchecked data collection and use. Senator Warnock also questioned the witnesses about the potential impacts of algorithms that use unchecked bias, and about the FTC’s capacity to protect consumer rights in general and the consumer rights of marginalized communities, in particular.
Watch video HERE and see below a transcript of Senator Warnock’s exchange with David Vladeck and Ashkan Soltani regarding privacy violations and bias in data:
Senator Warnock: “Privacy violations affect all of us. And so we’re grateful for this hearing. While all of us are affected by privacy violations, [that harm] can fall unequally across communities. We’ve seen historically how marginalized communities or historically marginalized communities particularly suffer from tech companies unchecked data collection and use. In 2019, HUD actually sued Facebook for housing discrimination, because its algorithms targeted housing ads based on sensitive information such as where people lived, whether they were a mom, or their religion. We’ve also heard reports of how platforms allow businesses to discriminate on who actually sees certain job advertisements. So the technology is reinscribing in new ways, old problems of discrimination and marginalization, showing ads to young men and not to women, or older Americans, Professor Vladeck, how can the FTC use its investigation and enforcement powers to hold tech companies accountable when they enable and further deepen patterns of discrimination?”
Mr. Vladeck: “That’s a great question. And I think your description of the problem is spot on. The FTC has authority to push and to force companies to not engage in biased activity online. And that, you know, those problems would be sort of under the unfairness jurisdiction of the FTC. And the FTC has done some but probably not enough work in that space. And, you know, my bottom line is, give the FTC more resources and give the FTC a nudge in that direction and will do its job. But again, the FTC has never had more than a few technologists on staff in order to sort of surveil the advertising practices because that’s really where the problem stems from. The FTC would need more resources. We need people online doing the kind of day to day oversight or surveillance, that if the FTC were better resourced, the FTC could do.”
Senator Warnock: “I agree the FTC needs the resources in order to provide this kind of enforcement, which is why 20 civil rights organizations sent a letter last month, asking the FTC to create an Office of Civil Rights. Mr. Soltani, what types of structural changes do you think would help the Commission to build expertise and capacity to protect consumer rights in general, and marginalized communities in particular?”
Mr. Soltani: “Senator, thank you for the question. Absolutely. I think the effect of these new technology systems on already marginalized communities is immense. Most of the kind of machine learning and AI, simply, you know, it’s machine learning based on what we’ve historically done in the past. So often, they fundamentally reinforced existing inequities, since they just learn from past behavior. So absolutely, either creating an Office of Civil Rights that works across the agency, or as I’ve suggested, perhaps, including that function, making sure that the new bureau that gets created with this funding also has experts and expertise that work across the agency’s mission on these issues of discrimination, algorithmic fairness, and bias, I think are incredibly important. Additionally, structural changes – to go to the previous Senators comments – I think rulemaking here or at least authority to create rules of the road are incredibly important. So I’ve personally done a lot of this work, I’ve done work with Wall Street Journal showing that, you know, companies will charge different prices to consumers based on where they live, how far they are from a competitor’s store, particularly in disadvantaged communities and an area codes. So it’s very difficult and hard stuff to do from the outside. So additional resources would help but so would essentially guidance to companies that they need to self-test and self-verify that their systems do not bias against consumers on areas like race, gender, age, for protected categories, like housing, credit, employment. I think companies are in the best position to do this and come can provide those adaptations to the FTC, and if the FTC has qualified staff to then review and verify, that would help really move the ball forward.”
***Watch video of Senator Reverend Warnock’s exchange HERE***