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Op-ed: Texas small businesses need relief from the glut of state privacy Laws
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many small businesses in Texas to close their doors. Those that survived quickly realized it would be necessary to shift to online sales and marketing to reach new and existing customers, but the digital transition has erected new hurdles that many small- and medium-sized companies are simply ill-equipped to handle. For example, small businesses are struggling to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of data privacy laws.
Small business owners are increasingly seeking advice on how to comply with the glut of state-level privacy regulations. This is a growing problem I know well—because when these companies seek guidance, they often come to me.
But here’s the thing: I’m a small business owner myself, and I’m not a lawyer and don’t pretend to have all the answers.
I am the founder of IOMMI Designs, a mid-sized web design firm based in Dallas. We specialize in e-commerce, development, and search engine optimization. We help small businesses establish a digital presence. In other words, we ensure our clients can be found online and that their websites are secure.
Lately, though, many of my clients have come to me with questions about online privacy compliance. They want to know what they need to do to protect their customers’ data. Equally pressing, they’re asking for help navigating state privacy laws.
Regulators across the nation have enacted a myriad of data privacy regulations over the last few years. California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which took effect this past January, is perhaps the best known. But it’s not the only one. Since 2018, California has supplanted the CCPA with an updated law, and four additional states have enacted laws regulating the commercial collection and use of personal data. And since January this year, at least 25 states have introduced their own unique privacy bills.
Taken in isolation, these laws aren’t an issue; consumers deserve to have their private, personal data protected. Collectively, however, this hodge-podge of privacy laws
presents small businesses with a veritable compliance nightmare. The result is that my clients need lawyers to understand each state’s privacy requirements, and they need me to build state-specific websites. That’s only viable for my clients that can afford it and presents a significant barrier for small businesses seeking to compete. Others rely on me to provide them with best practices and advice from my own personal experience in the industry.
This situation illustrates a fundamental problem with our current arrangement of privacy laws—practically speaking, they’re unworkable. Most small businesses don’t have the internal resources to learn how every state expects them to handle data. And even if they did, accurately following all those disparate privacy regulations quickly becomes a logistical impossibility. We need a better way forward.
The solution is simple: a federal privacy law that establishes common rules for everyone to follow. A single national standard would go a long way toward making data privacy compliance feasible for small businesses. No longer would they have to scramble to stay up to date with a constantly shifting patchwork of state laws. They wouldn’t have to waste time and money constructing different websites to cater to states’ idiosyncratic regulatory schemes. Instead, they could focus on securing their customers’ data and providing their clients with the highest level of service. They could get back to doing the work that inspired them to start a business—and everyone would be better off for it.
One recent measure found that our current glut of state privacy laws will cost the United States an estimated $1 trillion over the next ten years. That is unacceptable. Our elected representatives must act to implement a federal data privacy law and rectify this slow-rolling crisis. Texas’ small businesses have already shouldered enough of this burden; it’s time for our elected leaders to step up and help them out.
Adam Schultz is the founder of IOMMI Designs, a Dallas-based web design firm.