Ad Industry Gears Up To Fight For Changes To California Privacy Law

Privacy advocates, the ad industry, media organizations and tech companies are gearing up for a fight over a new law in California that restricts businesses' ability to use data about consumers.

The law, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown two weeks ago, requires companies to disclose data about consumers at their request, and allows consumers to opt out of the sale of their data to third parties. The bill also tasks the state attorney general with developing enforcement regulations. The sweeping bill was enacted just one week after it was introduced, with no real pushback. 

But the measure, slated to go into effect until January of 2020, appears to be very much a work-in-progress. Just last week, lawmakers on the state's Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection voted to issue some "technical corrections" to the law. The California legislature is expected to resume work on the technical corrections next month.



Lawmakers on the privacy committee described the proposed changes are as "technical, non-substantive, and non-controversial drafting errors," but that characterization is questionable. One of the amendments would add a new provision stating that consumers' privacy rights "shall not be construed to infringe on the business’s speech rights that state or federal courts have recognized as noncommercial speech, including political speech and journalism."

That change appears to stem from concerns raised by the California News Publishers Association, which argued that the bill's wording was so broad that the measure could hinder news organizations' ability to publish articles that included "personal information."

The CNPA isn't the only organization to criticize the law. The Association of National Advertisers -- which said it opposed the law, but didn't seek to block its passage -- plans to lobby lawmakers for revisions. That group wrote to lawmakers last week, urging them to hold off on amendments until businesses have more time to weigh in.

"Companies should be given a reasonable amount of time to digest the bill and provide a thoughtful response before rushing a 'technical corrections' bill through the legislature," Dan Jaffe, ANA executive vice president for governmental relations, told legislators. "The clarification that the Act does not infringe on First Amendment protected newsgathering activities is a perfect example of the need to carefully consider all of the unintended consequences of this massive bill."

In addition to pressing lawmakers for changes, critics of the new law are expected to press the state attorney general for the weakest possible regulations, while privacy advocates are readying a campaign for strong rules. 

Real estate developer Alastair Mactaggart, who backed a ballot box initiative that was replaced with the privacy bill, reportedly is planning a push to make sure the legislation doesn't get watered down.

“There is the risk that tech will now sneakily come in and eviscerate this law,” Mactaggart told Bloomberg. "The AG is going to have to produce some very sophisticated granular rules for how this stuff gets implemented, and [the tech industry] is going to be lobbying the AG six ways to Sunday."

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