Advocates for enhanced data privacy told Maine lawmakers Tuesday that they must approve new guardrails to prevent companies from mining unnecessary information so they can sell it to other businesses.

An Act to Create the Data Privacy and Protection Act would put the burden on businesses to gather only data that’s relevant to the product they are offering.

For example, a grocery store could collect data on products purchased by a consumer as part of their marketing efforts, but they wouldn’t be able to sell that data to other companies, said Caitriona Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The proposed legislation, sponsored by Rep. Maggie O’Neil (D-Saco), seeks to govern the collection and transfer of personal data, including the data of minors. It’s one of four data privacy measures currently under consideration by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

O’Neil’s bill is backed by Maine Youth Action, in part because targeted ads sent through social media can have a detrimental effect on youth mental health, said Cole Cochrane, a representative of the group.

“Targeted advertisements, especially through social media platforms, prey on vulnerable teens such as promoting ‘ideal body imagery’ or addictive behaviors like vaping,” Cochrane said. “With no guardrails on the use and collection of sensitive data, we allow our youth to fall victim to profit-hungry corporations who are willing to exploit our insecurities for their gain.”

The bill is opposed by financial institutions who argue that they are already subject to stringent federal laws. In addition, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Retail Association of Maine, L.L. Bean and Maine Auto Dealers Association testified against the bill.

“No other state is seriously considering a version of this legislation,” said Andrew Kingman of the State Privacy and Security Coalition. “If we want to help protect Maine consumers and help Maine businesses comply, creating interoperability between state lines and across New England is really important.” 

The coalition represents major tech companies, such as Google, Amazon, TikTok and Meta, the parent company of Facebook.

Anne Sedlack, an attorney representing the Maine Auto Dealers Association, said they worry the bill will lead to civil litigation.

“In no way do the perceived social benefits of allowing any individual to sue for any asserted privacy purpose, regardless of the significance or damage to the individual, compare with the damage to the businesses throughout Maine,” she said.

But advocates, such as Matt Schwartz of Consumer Reports, said the bill seeks to take the burden off consumers to opt-in or opt-out and instead set clear guidelines for companies.

He compared it to a homeowner who hires a plumber.

“When you invite a plumber into your home to fix a leak, you allow him or her to look at the sink and pipes so that they can address the issue,” he said. “You don’t give them consent to snoop around your entire house. Data minimization ensures that the plumber just looks at the pipes.”

O’Neil told members of the committee that she continues to work with supporters and opponents to refine the language, but she urged them not to be swayed by large technology companies who she says will try to weaken the bill.

“Please do not allow Big Tech to write our privacy law here in Maine,” she said. “If we pass consumer protections, it should be something that is balanced and not written by the companies who want to maintain their current practices.”