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Media platforms and the delicate push for data privacy

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Major news publishers are starting to support data privacy efforts.

Several major newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Financial Times, have publicly supported a new “do not track” browser extension developed in response to the California Consumer Privacy Act, which went into effect earlier this year. The technical specification, called the Global Privacy Control, is intended to qualify as a universal opt-out from data sharing or selling under the CCPA. Rather than having to opt out on each individual webpage, which most people don’t do, consumers can enable the extension as a default for every site they visit.

Newspapers have faced difficult choices as readership has moved online. Initially, many opted for an ad-driven model, which meant newspapers relied on revenue from data-driven advertising as much as, say, social media platforms. But as privacy concerns have grown — and as the ad tech business has become more sophisticated — newspapers are finding the ad-driven model both less palatable and less profitable. In a recent interview with Wired, Robin Berjon, vice president of data governance at the New York Times, said that the data-sharing deals publishers have inked with ad tech companies have made it so that “publishers are no longer the exclusive owners of their audience data.”

Newspapers may find themselves supporting stricter data privacy laws, too. A representative of a trade association representing digital outlets including Vox Media recently published an op-ed urging newspapers to embrace Proposition 24, a California ballot initiative that seeks to expand the CCPA. The op-ed pointed to Proposition 24’s goals of more clearly limiting third-party collection of data from websites, which the trade association argues would level the data-collection playing field between platforms and smaller news sites. Essentially, newspaper support for data protection, both in the form of laws like Proposition 24 and technical solutions like the GPC, could be characterized as a solution to a collective action problem. Foregoing data tracking could place a first-mover at a disadvantage, while “turning off” this resource for everyone resets the starting line.

The ballot initiative itself is still controversial. Over 50 legal privacy professionals and experts joined a statement in opposition to Proposition 24, citing its introduction after only a short period of experience with the CCPA, drafting concerns and the circumvention of the legislative process.

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The Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press uses integrated advocacy — combining the law, policy analysis, and public education — to defend and promote press rights on issues at the intersection of technology and press freedom, such as reporter-source confidentiality protections, electronic surveillance law and policy, and content regulation online and in other media. TPFP is directed by Reporters Committee attorney Gabe Rottman. He works with Stanton Foundation National Security/Free Press Legal Fellow Grayson Clary and Technology and Press Freedom Project Legal Fellow Mailyn Fidler.

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