Commentary

Tech Companies Aim To Rally Opposition To California Privacy Law

Last year, California passed a sweeping privacy law that will allow consumers to wield more control over data about themselves.

Tech companies and the ad industry have made no secret of their dislike of this measure, which will enable Californians to learn what personal data about themselves is held by businesses and opt out of its sale.

As currently written, the law's broad definition of personal information includes data used to target ads -- such as cookies, persistent identifiers, browsing history and IP addresses. The measure doesn't take effect until next year, and lawmakers are currently considering possible amendments.

Since the law was passed, the ad industry has been lobbying to narrow the definition of personal information. This week, the Silicon Valley group Internet Association, which counts Google and Facebook as members, joined that effort with a new online campaign to revise the law.

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“Access to our favorite free website and apps is at risk!” the Internet Association warns at the new site, “Keep the Internet Free.”

“Stronger data protection is something we all support, but this law was passed in just one week with little public scrutiny or consideration for how some provisions might negatively impact the continued availability of free websites and apps that are supported by modern online advertising,” the site states.

The Internet Association goes on to proclaim that the California law “was never intended to prohibit the use of tailored online ads.” The group also contends targeted ads don't threaten privacy, because companies that deliver tailored ads don't need to know consumers' names addresses or email addresses.

"It is essential that the free, ad-supported online services people love and use every day remain available,” Robert Callahan, Internet Association senior vice president for state government affairs, stated. “The law was never meant to impact online advertising, but its language remains unclear due to its swift passage last year.”

In fact, the law was backed by privacy experts including the University of California, Berkeley's Chris Hoofnagle and former Federal Trade Commission chief technologist Ashkan Soltani -- both of whom had long studied online advertising, and knew exactly how the law would affect ad-tech companies engaged in behavioral targeting.

What's more, earlier this year California lawmakers didn't move forward with a proposed amendment that would have explicitly allowed companies to share data for ad-targeting purposes. One would think debate over that failed amendment would have cleared up any confusion about the law's impact on online advertising.

Lawmakers in California are expected to finalize revisions to the law by mid-September.

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