Every company doing business on the internet collects and uses our personal data in their own way and for their own purposes. From internet providers that see data spikes when we binge Netflix overnight to search engines that record our most embarrassing questions for all eternity to social media platforms that graph just how close our “friendships” really are – every cog in the internet wheel is fueled in part by the access to data.

Yet some Maine lawmakers are pushing a new internet privacy law that applies only to internet access companies that operate in the state, and not to the rest of the web.  That makes no sense. At a time when every online company is hoovering up your personal data, a law covering only a small slice of this data would give Maine consumers no more than an illusion of privacy protection.

No one doubts that Americans deserve and desire stronger privacy protections. But research commissioned by PPI found that 94 percent of internet users believe that all companies operating on the internet should be covered by the same privacy rules.

The survey also reveals that over 80 percent of internet users believe the strength of privacy protection should depend on the sensitivity of their information, not the kind of company collecting and using it.  Thus there should be more protection for financial, health, and children’s data than weather searches or a recipe, regardless of whether it’s in the hands of an app, website, or internet provider.

That is why experts and advocates across the political and commercial spectrum have warned that only “technology neutral” rules that apply in the same way to the entire internet ecosystem can genuinely protect consumers online.

Civil rights groups like the National Urban League and MANA warn, for example, that “rules governing privacy and data collection should be consistent regardless of who collects it and how it’s collected.” That’s because “rules covering only broadband providers would leave a gaping and illogical ‘online privacy hole’ that will undermine their effectiveness” by exempting every other company operating on the internet, as the NAACP, LULAC, and Rainbow PUSH explain.

Consumer experts have warned “It is simply not realistic to expect consumers to understand multiple different approaches to their privacy or to figure out how their data is being used when the rules change for different internet companies they deal with.”  Other advocates for Hispanic, and Gay and Lesbian Chambers of Commerce warn this “immense amount of confusion” will leave consumers unprotected and exposed.

And former Clinton Administration Commerce Department Undersecretary and PPI Fellow Ev Ehrlich urges comprehensive pro-consumer rules that genuinely empower internet users to determine how their data is used:  “Let consumers decide what they want. But asking them to figure out two different sets of rules that relate to their on-line life is asking too much.”  This echoes the call fromDemocratic former Congressman Rick Boucher that privacy rules that exempt major sectors of the internet “giv[e] consumers a false sense of security with regard to their privacy protection expectations and setting the stage for needless confusion.”

I am sure the backers of this legislation have the right motivation: protect consumers. But in the end they will confuse users and give a false sense of security to Maine citizens. Congress has failed to do its job and update a national set of rules for the internet but in attempting to fill that gap Maine is ignoring what consumers want and what they should expect when they access the internet.

Lindsay Lewis is the executive director of the Progressive Policy Institute.

Comments are not available on this story.