EDDINGTON — Americans spend most of their days consuming media. The internet is more than just a facet of modern society – it’s an unavoidable part of everyday life.  Students use search engines to complete homework, video chats bring children into their grandparents’ homes from miles away and businesses rely on social media to reach their customers. However, the many conveniences provided by the internet have not come without a price tag. The threats to our online privacy and personal data are growing and without protections in place, we are all potentially vulnerable.

This year, Maine passed a bill that will help protect the privacy of Mainers. L.D. 946, An Act to Protect the Privacy of Online Customer Information, was meant to solve Maine’s privacy problems, but it did not address all facets of online privacy.

As someone who was a Maine school counselor for nearly 30 years, I know firsthand the importance of protecting our privacy on all forums. The current law places restrictions on internet service providers but does nothing to protect Mainers everywhere they travel online. It exempts the websites, social media platforms and data brokers that place our data most at risk.

Take Facebook, for example – last year, it was discovered that Cambridge Analytica manipulated Facebook data without users’ permission, gaining access to the personal information of 87 million people. Following this scandal, Facebook faced another privacy breach, resulting in nearly 50 million Facebook accounts being hacked. This year hasn’t been any easier for the company, and the Federal Trade Commission imposed a historic $5 billion fine as a result of the social media platform’s misconduct.

Only 15 percent of Americans agree that Facebook securely protects its customers’ personal information and data, according to an Axios + The Harris Poll survey, and the social media platform scored in the bottom 10 for both ethics and trust.  Given the endless privacy controversy that surrounds Facebook and its peers in Silicon Valley, it doesn’t make sense that they were excluded from Maine’s privacy law.

Our legislators may have meant well in theory when crafting this law, but in practice, the law requires consumers to tackle a patchwork of complex agreements dependent on what sites they visit on the internet. By applying restrictions only on certain sites but leaving out everywhere else Mainers travel online, consumers are left in the dark about where they are, and are not, protected. Privacy disclosures should be simple and uniform across the entire internet ecosystem.

In addition to uniformity, transparency is also critical when it comes to online data practices. We deserve to know what information is being collected and where it’s being shared or sold so we can make informed decisions about what websites or platforms we choose to frequent.

Most Americans believe that the threat to personal privacy online is a crisis. The legislation passed this year is a good first step in protecting Mainers, but more needs to be done.  Luckily, our lawmakers still have the chance to amend this law before its implementation next July. I am confident they will provide Mainers the privacy protections we deserve.


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