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New proposal: Internet companies should pay you if they use or sell your data

It's your data that's valuable – should you get compensated for it?

Those targeted ads you see – the ones that show you the exact product you searched for two minutes earlier from a different device, or somehow know which businesses are near your home – are all driven by data. The sites you visit, the things you search for, are saved and shared to try to get more relevant ads in front of your face.

But since it's your personal data being used to generate more sales ... should you get paid by the companies that share it?

Rep. Paul Thissen, a Democrat in the Minnesota House, introduced a new bill Thursday that would make internet companies pay you if they use or sell your information. The text of the bill is here.

How would it work? Well starting in 2019, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (which already exists) would decide how much your browsing information is worth.

Once that's set, internet service providers (from whom you get your internet), telecommunications companies (your phone service) and other web businesses (including search engines and social media) would have to pay you for being able to use your data.

If any of those companies sells, shares or distributes your data, or uses it for direct advertising, you'd be eligible to get reimbursed.

What type of data would be covered?

Things like the name or birthday of you and direct family members, your occupation, credit history, medical information, browsing history, cookies and IP address info. In addition, the companies couldn't bundle this information as a profile, aggregated together or not.

"Right now, our economy is becoming increasingly dominated by a handful of incredibly powerful companies who make huge amounts of money trading on the personal information of Americans," Thissen said in a news release. "It's time for Minnesotans to have ownership of their own personal information recognized and to share in the profits made off the sale of that information."

Why is this suddenly an issue?

This proposal is another way to address what very quickly has turned into a spotlight issue: what information internet companies collect from you while you browse the web, and what they do with it afterward.

The conversation in Minnesota really started because of changes at the federal level. Earlier this year U.S. Congress approved, and President Donald Trump signed, a bill that opened the door to ISPs being able to collect and sell consumer data freely – rather than having to get your consent.

In response, Thissen and fellow DFLer, Sen. Ron Latz, pushed for some type of language that would have required internet service providers to get written permission from Minnesotans before collecting or selling any of their data.

The idea of the proposal had broad support from Democrats and Republicans, but earlier this week it was removed (at least for now) from the economics bill it had been a part of. (Check out this story to read one senator's reasoning why.)

That irked Thissen and Latz – so it's no surprise Thissen would propose another strategy to add a layer of consumer data protection.

That said, don't expect it to go anywhere soon. State lawmakers only have through May 22 to pass bills – that's less than three weeks now. And with certain deadlines already passed, plus some large budget bills to figure out, there isn't a clear path to getting this new proposal up for a vote.

Proposing it now however does lay the groundwork for it to be picked up against potentially in 2018. We've reached to out Thissen's office to see if that's his plan.

Update: A spokesperson for Thissen's office says the representative plans to move ahead with it this session. So stay tuned.

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