A watered-down version of California’s data-privacy law is a possibility, privacy experts warn

In six months the nation’s strongest privacy law, the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), will take effect. Or will it?

As the weeks wind down, there is a frantic race to frame what could become a model for a national data-privacy law. A Sept. 13 deadline on final changes to the law’s wording has privacy advocates and state lawmakers concerned a watered-down version of the bill will emerge if tech companies have their way. Conversely, businesses insist the sweeping law needs tweaks and clarifications so they can effectively comply.

“Tech has taken an anthill approach of supporting a number of amendments with carve-outs for businesses and changes in definition,” says Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights advocacy group. “I don’t see much prospect for CCPA getting any stronger.”

What has emerged from the legislative warfare are bills pushed through by an army of lawyers and lobbyists representing the tech industry’s interests, claim privacy advocates.

See also: Proposed California bill would ban ‘deepfake’ videos

At least 40 bills have been introduced in Sacramento that would modify the CCPA. Most are dead, but several — all of which Tien claims will weaken CCPA — have passed one chamber of the state legislature.

This should trouble consumers because CCPA does not cover scenarios such as third-parties gaining unfettered access to mountains of data, as Cambridge Analytica famously did with Facebook last year, according to Samantha Corbin, a Sacramento lobbyist representing EFF, Common Sense Media, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and the ACLU on the issue.

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“What you’ve seen are certain actors in tech [she later mentioned Facebook and Google] who want to narrow the scope of CCPA,” Buffy Wicks, (D., Oakland) a member of the California Assembly who sits on the Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee, told MarketWatch in a phone interview. A bill of hers, AB 1760, which included opt-in clauses for consumers, did not get out of the privacy committee. The California legislature is considering amendments, she argues, that exempt large swaths of personal information and narrows the definition of a consumer.

Big tech’s case

Some of the world’s most powerful tech companies — Alphabet Inc.’s GOOGL, +0.57% GOOG, +0.46% Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, -0.56% Facebook Inc. FB, +1.85% Microsoft Corp. MSFT, -0.14% Uber Technologies Inc. UBER, +2.77% and Lyft Inc. LYFT, +0.67% — support amendments they say will make the law clearer and more fair to businesses. California’s looming law has also drawn opposition from members of the Internet Association, who derive most of their revenue from user data, and the Internet Advertising Bureau, an organization that represents more than 650 media and tech companies.

Highlighting the significance of CCPA, representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft immediately offered their takes on the law. Amazon and Uber declined to comment.

“We’ve long supported privacy legislation that protects consumers’ data and encourages innovation,” Google spokesman Aaron Stein said in a statement to MarketWatch. “The CCPA will impose new obligations on thousands of small and large businesses, and it is critical that its requirements are clearly defined. We are encouraged that California legislators are considering clarifications to the law in recent months, but that work is far from finished.”

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