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Maryland Small Business Owners Express Frustration Over Online Data Privacy Act

Annapolis, MD (April 4, 2024):  Maryland small business leaders expressed concern and disappointment at the consideration of Senate Bill 541 and House Bill 567, legislation that would regulate how businesses collect and use data to find customers, grow, and succeed. Recognizing the bill’s good intentions, the business leaders said data collection and usage restrictions would make online advertising more expensive and less effective, significantly harming small businesses. Over 20 businesses signed a letter urging Maryland legislators to amend the bill and not “overregulate digital advertising tools that small businesses need to get ahead.” 

“Digital ads are critical for finding customers and growing our business,” said Kirk Hinckley, president of The Bow Tie Club in Gaithersburg, MD. “Selling bow ties requires reaching a niche audience, and our business would suffer immensely if digital ads somehow weren’t as effective as they are today. I urge Maryland legislators to improve the Maryland Online Privacy Act and avoid serious unintended consequences for small businesses like mine.”

According to new research about small business digital use, nearly 70% of Maryland small businesses use digital advertising. Small business digital advertising partners like Google and Facebook use basic consumer data, including general location, device type, language preference, and interests, to help businesses reach the right audiences. “Data minimization” language in SB 541 / HB 567 would prevent businesses from using customer location data for important decisions like where to open new locations. It would also prevent businesses’ marketing partners from collecting traffic data needed to measure and improve website performance and advertising effectiveness.

“Digital ads are critically important for small businesses whose customers spend so much time online,” said Sterling McKinley, a Maryland-based digital marketing specialist who helps small businesses expand their reach. “Protecting consumer data privacy is important, but changing how Maryland business owners find and attract new customers will cause serious harm, especially in communities that face economic challenges where folks operate on tiny advertising budgets.”

The Online Privacy Act also requires small businesses with at least 35,000 customer interactions to routinely conduct expensive and time-consuming “data protection assessments” that would require help from lawyers and consultants and crush small businesses financially.

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