As we recently outlined, Data Brokers in the United States have an unprecedented amount of information about every citizen in the country, their political beliefs, their location, their consumption habits, and more. Even though there are steps you can take to limit their grasp, one must wonder what legal protections you have as an American.
In short - there aren’t any. The United States does not have any single, comprehensive mandate protecting the privacy of its people. There are laws that dictate online interactions and even personal information; however, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about what they mean and where they apply.
In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission Act was updated to include internet based abuses with the U.S. Safe Web Act Amendments. This amendment does not protect consumers from abuses of privacy - it only seeks to bring the already established market practices being enforced in traditional markets to online commercial spaces.
In some cases, this means that companies are required to disclose when data breaches happen, and that companies are required to make a good faith effort to keep any vulnerable information as safe as possible, but it does not make collecting, selling, or otherwise distributing otherwise publicly available information illegal in any way, shape, or form.
COPPA, passed in 1998, imposes strict privacy regulations for children. Internet companies are not allowed to knowingly collect any personal information from any persons under the age of 13, which is why all Social Media platforms require their users to be older than that. This law is awesome for keeping kids safe, but unfortunately there’s nothing comparable for adults.
There are laws in a little less than half of the states in the Union that dictate practices related to data collection and distribution. Rather than summarizing each one individually, I’ll provide a list of every state that currently has consumer privacy protection, with a link to the relevant law for you to read.
The general summary is that most states that do have some protection just require there to be some sort of opt out feature. There are no laws outright banning data collection. For this reason, wherever you live in America, you have to always be diligent about keeping your information safe through constant action.