Vocal California Advocacy Group Backs New Privacy Proposal

Prominent advocacy group Consumer Watchdog is backing a ballot initiative aimed at beefing up California's already broad privacy law.

The California Privacy Rights Act (Proposition 24) marks “a major step forward to enshrine the privacy rights of Californians and safeguard it from legislative assault, add key new protections, and introduce a tough European privacy regime to California,” the organization stated Thursday.

California's current Consumer Privacy Act, which took effect this year, gives consumers the right to learn what personal information about them is held by businesses, request deletion of that information, and opt out of its sale.

The 52-page Proposition 24 would broaden that law in several ways. Among others, the new measure would make it harder for companies to use data about race, ethnicity, health, or finances for advertising. 

Consumer Watchdog highlights some of those restrictions in its endorsement.

“Under Prop 24, a consumer can limit the use of their sensitive information to stop Uber from profiling them based on race, stop Spotify from utilizing their precise geo-location and prevent Facebook from using their sexual orientation, health status or religion in its algorithms,” Carmen Balber, executive director of the organization, stated Thursday.

Proposition 24 would also eliminate some loopholes in the current law -- including one that may allow companies to continue serving targeted ads to web users, even if they attempt to opt out.

Another provision would allow lawmakers to amend the measure, but only in ways that “are consistent with and further the purpose and intent” of the law.

Consumer Watchdog and other backers say that provision is critical, because web companies and the ad industry already attempted to weaken key provisions of the California Consumer Privacy Act.

“Since the enactment of the landmark California Consumer Privacy Act ... 18 bills in the California legislature have sought to directly amend the law and 6 would have eviscerated its major provisions,” Consumer Watchdog states. “Many more statehouse assaults are expected from the wealthy industries opposed to the law.”

Not all advocacy groups are as enthusiastic as Consumer Watchdog.

The digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation declined to either endorse or oppose the measure, and Consumer Reports gave the proposition a lukewarm review.

“In the short term, the CPRA could benefit consumers by closing up targeted advertising loopholes, strengthening enforcement and preventing the legislature from weakening the law,” Consumer Reports' policy analyst Maureen Mahoney wrote. “But its long-term impacts on privacy are less clear: The ballot initiative introduces new complexities and ambiguities that could well be exploited by companies.”

Other groups oppose, including the ACLU and Consumer Federation of California, argue against the proposal, which they describe as “52 pages of fine print.”

Among other reasons, those groups say it's premature to talk about revising a law that only took effect earlier this year.

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