Calls Mount to Ease Big Tech’s Grip on Your Data

The study estimated that the corporate payoff — mainly to big tech companies — from collecting the personal data of Americans online was $76 billion in 2018, and that it would rise sharply in the future.

If the government collected a 50 percent fee from companies using Americans’ personal data, Mr. Shapiro said, it could contribute significantly to rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure or supporting social safety net programs. If paid out to individual users, it would be a check for $122 a person last year. The study was done for Future Majority, a research center for the Democratic Party.

Policymakers are struggling with how government action and market forces might be employed to check the power of the data-fueled technology giants.

In Colorado, Chris Hansen, a Democratic state legislator and a former energy consultant, brings an electrical energy perspective to the issue.

“These massive tech companies have close to data monopolies,” Mr. Hansen said. “Do we need something like data public utility commissions? I don’t know, but I do think it’s a question worth considering.”

In Canada, Michelle Rempel, a Conservative member of Parliament from Calgary, is doubtful that government regulators can ever keep up with the largest tech companies, with their far greater expertise and resources. Government, she said, will have to intervene, but more as a designer of basic rules than as a regulator. “The goal should be to help build a fair market for data,” Ms. Rempel said.

Those market-building rules, according to policymakers, include clear ownership rights so individuals control their data, and requirements that companies allow personal data to be easily sent to other services at a consumer’s request. Such steps, they say, could open the door to a flourishing community of data market makers, aggregating individuals’ data and negotiating sales.