safety online

New study finds that Texas is more at risk for cyber privacy concerns than other states

According to a new study, there's still a lot the Lone Star State needs to do to protect its citzens online. Getty Images

If Texas' standards for online privacy were graded, the Lone Star State would earn an "F," a new study indicates.

An analysis of online privacy laws in the 50 states shows Texas adheres to only five (25 percent) of the 20 privacy standards examined by pro-consumer tech research website Comparetech. Just two states surpassed the 50 percent mark — California (75 percent) and Delaware (55 percent). At 5 percent, Wyoming was ranked the worst state for online privacy protection laws.

Texas did, however, have some redeeming qualities. The state has laws on the books regarding how companies dispose of consumers' data, how organizations protect data about students in kindergarten through 12th grade, how biometric data is protected, and how journalists are shielded from revealing their sources, according to Comparetech.

Ranking 23rd in the Comparetech study, Texas fell short in areas such as social media privacy, security of insurance data, third-party sharing of data, and disclosure of what types of data companies collect about consumers.

"Texas still has a long way to go in protecting its residents' privacy, particularly when it comes to how companies and government entities can collect, use, and share personal data," says Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate with Comparetech.

During Texas' 2019 legislative session, one comprehensive measure aimed at tightening online privacy laws, the Texas Consumer Privacy Act, failed to reach the governor's desk.

However, lawmakers passed and Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Texas Privacy Protection Act. This law, far less sweeping than the Texas Consumer Privacy Act, revises notification requirements under the Texas Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act, according to the Data Privacy Monitor blog. It also establishes the 15-member Texas Privacy Protection Advisory Council, which will recommend future legislation tied to data privacy.

In Texas, Bischoff says, companies still "have few restrictions on how they are allowed to gather information from users, how long that data can be retained, and with whom it can be shared. Likewise, government entities like schools and law enforcement are not bound by laws that would prevent them from invading people's privacy."

He notes, however, that Texas is among only four states that protect biometric data such as fingerprints and facial-recognition scans.

Among all the states, California "sets a fairly high bar" for protection of online privacy, Bischoff says, but even it fails to meet all of the pro-privacy criteria set out in the Comparetech study.

Around the country, most people support beefing up state laws governing online privacy, he says, "but technology has outpaced legislation, so many states just need time to catch up."

Some Americans, though, doubt that any laws can safeguard their online privacy. In a 2019 survey commissioned by privacy-technology company FigLeaf Inc., 29 percent of U.S. adults said they thought it was impossible to safeguard their digital information.

"Without question, consumers are telling us that online privacy is important to them. However, far too many believe online privacy is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve," Slava Kolomeichuk, co-founder and CEO of Deerfield, Illinois-based FigLeaf, says in a news release. "This attitude is resulting in individuals who are choosing to restrict their own online activity, which limits their personal freedom. Unfortunately, current tools do not give consumers the assurance they need that it is possible to control one's own online privacy."

Control of online privacy is a serious concern for U.S. adults. In a 2019 survey by SurveyMonkey, 58 percent of adults viewed online privacy as a crisis. For Texans, this concern won't be addressed by state lawmakers until the Legislature reconvenes in 2021. Meanwhile, federal lawmakers aren't expected to take action this year on an online privacy bill.

U.S. Sen. Richard Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, is one of the main sponsors of the federal privacy legislation. He says Americans deserve the same online protections regardless of where in the U.S. they live or travel.

"That means internet privacy regulations should not vary across state lines," Wicker says on his website. "Not only would 50 different privacy standards leave Americans uncertain about what is being done with their data, but a patchwork of state-level interventions could also lead to uncertainty for businesses, bad internet service, and slower economic growth."

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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