California Passes Broad Online Privacy Bill

Lawmakers in California on Thursday passed a sweeping privacy bill that gives consumers the right to prevent the sale of their personal information, including their web-browsing history.

The bill, which was signed Thursday afternoon by Governor Jerry Brown, contains numerous other provisions -- including one that allows consumers to require the deletion of their personal information. Another term prohibits companies from charging higher fees to consumers to refuse to share their personal data -- though that provision has some wiggle room.

The new law's expansive definition of personal information includes not only names and email addresses but also IP addresses, web-browsing history and search history.

The bill -- which comes several months after revelations that Cambridge Analytica garnered data from up to 87 million unsuspecting Facebook users -- was supported by numerous privacy advocates, including former Federal Trade Commission chief technologist Ashkan Soltani. It also garnered support from The Los Angeles Times, which editorialized today that consumers "remain largely in the dark about how their information is being used."

The paper wrote: "That’s a problem, given that much of what’s offered and shown to you online is shaped by what companies glean about your life, your predilections and your finances from the digital bread crumbs you scatter as you use the internet."

Lawmakers fast-tracked the measure, passing it just seven days after it was introduced, in order to avoid a ballot initiative on privacy. That initiative, backed by the group Californians for Consumer Privacy, and financed by millionaire Alastair Mactaggert, had already qualified for a spot on November's ballot. The ballot initiative contained many similar provisions to the law -- though the two measures are not identical.

The most important difference between the two may be that it's far more difficult to modify a ballot initiative than to revise legislation.

The new privacy law particularly lends itself to tweaking, given that it won't take effect until January of 2020. The Association of National Advertisers -- which doesn't like the law, but considers it preferable to the ballot initiative -- noted this week that the Attorney General will have 18 months to issue regulations to "clarify a number of ambiguous and conflicting provisions in the legislation."

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