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Jon Fox,
CALPIRG

California Moves to Respect Consumer’s Online Privacy

Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill that would strengthen Do-Not-Track mechanisms.

Sacramento, CA – Yesterday Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 370 (Muratsuchi) into law. The new law expands on what website operators must include in their privacy policies. Specifically, the California Public Interest Research group (CALPIRG) is pleased to see that websites will now be required to disclose:

  1. The types of personally identifiable information that the operator collects.
  2. Whether or not they honor consumer Do-Not-Track requests.
  3. Whether they’ve prevented or allowed third parties to use online tracking.
  4. If the operator maintains a process for an individual consumer to review and change any of their personally identifiable information that is collected through the web site or online service, and provide a description of that process.

“AB 370 is a first step in addressing privacy concerns surrounding online tracking cookies,” said CALPIRG Consumer Advocate Jon Fox.

Online cookies were originally designed to help websites “remember” a consumer for their next visit, speeding up the browsing experience and making it more fluid and enjoyable. Since then, tracking cookies, especially third-party tracking cookies, have become more sophisticated, compiling a record of individuals' browsing histories, online interactions, movements and interests.

“Many Californians would be surprised to learn how their personal data is collected across platforms and could be used in unexpected and potentially harmful ways,” said Jon Fox. “Some consumers do not wish to be tracked and this bill empowers Californians with the knowledge they need to protect themselves.”

The collection and misuse of our personal data is not an abstract fear. Here are some alarming recent cases that have affected people’s lives:

  • Companies collecting online information and activities have exposed sensitive and private health information, revealing a woman’s pregnancy before she chose to tell her family.
  • With such an overwhelming pool of data, it is not uncommon to have incorrect data connected to consumers without their knowledge. Data brokers have shared incorrect information with employers and loan agencies, and Americans have lost jobs and been denied mortgages because of it.

“While some web browsers allow consumers to tell website operators that they do not wish to be tracked and to block third party cookies, websites are not obligated to respect those requests. AB 370 will let Californians know up-front which websites respect their privacy settings, and which choose to ignore them,” said Jon Fox. “It won’t stop businesses from tracking us online, but it will empower consumers to choose websites and online services that respect our privacy choices.”

In 2011, online advertising industry groups pledged to develop voluntary mechanisms to honor user’s browser-based Do-Not-Track flags. During the past summer, negotiations to set universal Do-Not-Track standards as part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) fell through after little progress was made towards self-regulation. While some companies have decided to move ahead themselves, consensus and clarity around Do-Not-Track standards are still absent. AB 370 closes the gap left by the advertising industry’s refusal to adopt network-wide standards on how to treat Do-Not-Track requests and what sort of behavior constitutes tracking.

To learn more about online tracking, click here.

 

 

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The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) is a result-oriented public interest group that protects consumers, encourages a fair sustainable economy, and fosters responsive democratic governance.

 

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