Tester Takes Tech Execs to Task Over Consumer Privacy Concerns

Senator: "Are you doing everything you can to make sure private information is protected?"

(U.S. Senate) – “Do any of you sell personal information? Yes or no?”

That’s the question U.S. Senator Jon Tester posed to top executives from Amazon, Google, Twitter, Apple, AT&T, and Charter Communications during today’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on data collection and online privacy practices.

“I’m a farmer, I’m not a technology person,” Tester told the tech execs at today’s hearing. “I’ll get on and look for a set of tires for my truck and, presto change-o, I might be checking scores on ESPN and up comes an advertisement for tires for my truck. How the hell did they get that information?”

Tester condemned the complexity and lack of transparency when it comes to helping everyday Montanans understand their user privacy settings and warned about the dangers of current data sharing practices.

“Say for example a Russian firm were to ask for that information or a Chinese firm,” Tester said. “Have any of you been asked for information from a firm that does business in other countries? And have you given it to them or sold it to them?”

“Any response to that?” Tester pressed as his question was met with silence.

Tester has steadfastly defended Montanans’ privacy against both corporate and government overreach. He took Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to task back in April after reports revealed that the company shared the personal information of more than 87 million Americans without their consent. He also grilled former Equifax CEO Richard Smith after the personal information of more than 367,000 Montanans was comprised in the company’s data breach last year.

Tester has aggressively condemned the use of mass government surveillance under the PATRIOT Act and is one of only a handful of Senators that has consistently voted against reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In January, he helped introduce the USA RIGHTS Act, a bipartisan bill to end the practice of warrantless data collection under FISA.