California’s Trailblazing Consumer Privacy Law

California’s Trailblazing Consumer Privacy Law by Anamika Sinha

I’m sure when most of us stumble across a trivia question of sorts, the first answer key that crosses our minds is Google, the ultimate search engine. But have you ever wondered what exactly Google does with the data it gathers from the billions of searches that it is used for per day, (about 3.5 to be precise)? Well that’s a question that not even the ultimate search engine will answer perfectly for you. In fact, Alastair Mactaggart, one of the main masterminds behind the creation of the new California privacy bill, once reminisced about a time when he bumped into a Google engineer at a cocktail party, where the employee casually mentioned that if consumers had a glimpse into what the company knew about their users, they would be shocked. This ultimately gave Mactaggart a clear incentive to advocate for privacy rights for the general public, which resulted in a new piece of legislature known as the “California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018”.

Highlights of the Law: This law passed by CA government on June 28, 2018 will be enforced starting Jan 1st, 2020. It mandates businesses to disclose all categories of data that they have collected for a given user over the last twelve months including names of third party entities with whom they have shared the data. It also requires businesses to offer users a simple, intuitive way  to opt out of having their information stored, and shared. It also allows businesses to monetize aggregate data as long as individuals were unidentifiable from aggregate data. Lastly it also allows businesses to charge a different price to customers who have opted out ONLY if they can prove that the difference in charge is related to the value provided by the consumer’s data. Comparing it to the GDPR initiative that was ratified by Europe Union earlier this year, there are a lot of similarities. One key difference is that while GDPR levies huge fines on companies for non-compliance, the California law falls short and gives sweeping powers to the attorney general.

Reaction from Businesses: How do major businesses feel about having stricter privacy guidelines? While Facebook supposedly supports this law (truth be told, its mainly because the alternate measure for November CA ballot was more onerous. The ballot proposal was polling at 80% approval rate. Ballot measures are much harder to change than legislations) , most other businesses in Silicon Valley and the nation in general seem opposed to the legislature.

Tech giants like Google and Uber were frustrated that they were not consulted and such an important legislation was passed in record time without proper deliberation on the pros and cons. Even if their concerns may be somewhat valid, the reality is that they will have to make massive changes to support the law and risk a high percentage of their customers opting out from data collection and sharing. This puts their entire business model at risk.

Another major argument that opposers had was that the privacy issue should be addressed by US Congress, and not by individual state governments. This leads to an impending question, how will this law in world’s fifth largest economy affect the rest of the country? Well, due to many factors, this will likely influence a significant amount of companies to apply the same rules to all their customers. This is because the expectation that businesses will filter through their IP addresses in order to implement this law to only their California users is quite unreasonable, which means that users worldwide will benefit.

What’s Next? I’m sure that nobody imagined that the Google employee’s words at a cocktail party would have such a large domino effect on our tech world, just like we can’t predict the true extent of people that this law will impact. But it’s safe to say, that businesses will all use their money and influence to orchestrate some changes to the law. Its hard to imagine that tech giants will sit still and allow the law in its current form to take effect. Regardless of what happens next, when you combine Europe led GDPR initiative with this California initiative, one can rest assured that the the world wide web is about to endure some major changes from the standpoint of privacy.

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