California Privacy Bill's Ambiguity Will Shake Up Search

California passed a privacy bill last week that gives residents the right to learn what personal information businesses have about them and to opt out from the sale of that information.

The bill, which could dramatically change in the coming year, does not take effect until 2020.

In its present state, the bill is extremely ambiguous, according to Jessica Ortega, product marketing specialist at SiteLock, which makes cloud-based security tools to scan websites for malware and vulnerabilities. She has been following the legislation closely.

“The bill doesn’t put limits on how the data must be stored or collected,” she said. "It’s about companies being required to disclose what data they collect and the category it’s being used for when selling it to third parties."



Ortega said there is no requirement to have an active opt-in similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. It’s just setting up the platform for consumers to request the information. There is also a right-to-be-forgotten clause in the United States, she said.

Unlike the requirement to notify site visitors that the company is using cookies to track visitors, they need to disclose they are collecting data rather than requesting their permission. Sites must offer two places on the website where consumers can opt-out, Ortega said. She calls it “passive opt-in” on retail sites.

Search engines will need to provide a place on sites where they list information on what they collect and the categories they disclose, such as advertising. The search engines will need a place where searchers can go to delete and request information they collect about the individual.

Google is halfway there, with the changes made to its privacy setting in June. It also will need an opt-out button for users when it comes to selling information.

However, there are more questions than answers at this point. For example, it’s not entirely clear how Google will determine whether the person accessing its services is a California resident. It’s also unclear whether search engines will apply this to California residents only or more broadly across the United States.

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