California Considers Amending New Privacy Law

Lawmakers in California's senate judiciary committee are expected Tuesday to consider amendments to the state's new privacy law, including several that could significantly water down the measure.

The law, slated to take effect next year, allows consumers to learn what personal information has been collected about them by companies, have that information deleted, and prevent the sale of that data.

The current measure's relatively broad definition of “personal information” includes data that could potentially be linked to individuals -- such as cookies, persistent identifiers, browsing history and IP addresses. The bill also has an exception for “de-identified” information, which it defines as including data incapable of being linked to a particular customer.



One of the amendments under consideration, AB 873, proposed by Assembly member Jacqui Irwin, would revise the definition of “de-identified” data to include material that is not “reasonably linkable” to a particular consumer. If that amendment passes, it could make the law more friendly to online marketers by exempting IP addresses, device identifiers and other pseudonymous identifiers from the material covered by the measure.

The California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups that support the amendment argued earlier this year it will make the law align more closely with the traditional definition of personally identifiable information.

The business groups argue that only data that can in itself identify people -- like names or social security numbers, but not IP addresses or device identifiers -- should be covered by the new law.

Privacy groups oppose the amendment, arguing that it would create a loophole that could largely exempt ad-targeting companies from the law's requirements.

“AB 873 is a Trojan Horse,” Jake Snow, an attorney with the ACLU of California, told reporters Monday. “It would permit massive privacy violations by businesses that are holding personal information of Californians.”

Late last month, a coalition of privacy advocates, including the ACLU of California, Consumers Union, and Electronic Frontier Foundation, urged lawmakers to reject the amendment. 

Another proposed amendment, AB 846, proposed by Assembly Member Autumn Burke, would weaken a provision that prohibits companies from charging higher prices to consumers who opt out of data collection and selling.

The measure currently allows businesses to offer "financial incentives" to consumers who allow their data to be collected and sold -- provided that the incentives are related to the data's value.

The proposed amendment would explicitly allow companies to offer “loyalty” programs that give consumers discounts in exchange for their data. 

But privacy groups say the wording is too broad.

“This bill goes too far as written,” Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy and technology policy at Consumer Reports, says. “The amendment would allow companies to charge higher prices to people who opted out of the same of their data.”

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