How NCAA Athletes and Your Privacy are Linked

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Will legislators consider that two seemingly different policy choices debated currently share a similar principle and therefore require a like solution?

I’m looking at Senate Bill 206 by Sens. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Steve Bradford of Gardena to allow college athletes to be paid for the money-making use of their name, image, and likenesses, and the debate kicked off by Gov. Gavin Newsom to create a data dividend for the money-making use of people’s personal information by internet companies.

Obviously, the debates over college sports and internet data gathering have their own sets of special circumstances. Yet there is a similarity in both discussions based on the core principle of individuality.

In selling sports jerseys with someone’s name attached or using real athletes and their statistical history as characters in video games, money is made off the athletes’ unique qualities just as money is made off individual’s distinctive data and interests that is captured by Internet companies. 

Of course, developing the value of personal data and how to price it will be a difficult task. Tech companies will warn that services that people enjoy freely today may find themselves behind paywalls if the data income spigot is cut off.

For the college athletes, the push back comes from the athletic governing board, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which says paying some athletes would throw competitive balance out of whack.

Previous court rulings dealing with this issue of compensating athletes determined that there must be an education related benefit to the payment.  It is argued that student athletes who receive scholarships and get an education are compensated in a sense for their participation in the sports.

There is also the specter of moving toward unionization of student athletes if the Fair Pay for Play bill becomes law. An attempt at unionizing was made by Northwestern University football players in 2014. After successfully arguing their case on the local level, the players’ request was shot down by the National Labor Relations Board.

The NCAA argued, as it has with the California bill, that paying or unionizing players breaks the precedent of college amateurism. (The possibility of unionizing college athletes is probably what brought a letter of support for the bill from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.) 

In his State of the State speech Gov. Newsom said, “California’s consumers should also be able to share in the wealth that is created from their data.” California is home to some of the biggest data collection companies in the world with Google and Facebook headquartered here.

The question is can data collection be done in a way to satisfy consumers without damaging business. Supporters of paying for data argue that business opportunities would be enhanced under such a program because competing businesses would enter the field to offer rewards for data.

Another question is how would a data dividend play with California’s Consumer Privacy Act, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The act gives power to consumers to know what information about them is being collected, how it is being used, and the power for consumers to have the data deleted. 

Will people be willing to sell their privacy by accepting a data dividend for allowing companies to barter their information?

Much is to be worked out both with the Fair Pay for Play bill and the governor’s suggestion of a data dividend. But the common link between these two distinct issues—an individual’s ability to share the wealth created from his or her likeness, interests, information or abilities—may drive the legislature to seek similar policy solutions.

Originally published at CALmatters.

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