Opinion | The Problems with Prop 24 and California’s Internet Privacy Law


Jacob Snow, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of California, pointed to a provision in Prop 24 that adds shopper loyalty clubs to the list of entities that can withhold discounts for customers who ask that personal data be withheld from collection. He said that amounts to a tax on lower-income consumers, who may feel more pressure to effectively sell their data in exchange for discounts. And the measure may allow businesses to gobble up data from devices once Californians leave the state, he said.

Also missing from Prop 24 is what’s known as a private right of action, meaning consumers aren’t given explicit permission to sue directly over privacy violations, leaving that largely up the new agency.

Generally tech firms oppose broad privacy regulations because such measures hamper their ability to sell the lucrative targeted advertising that is the underpinning of free services like Google and Facebook. To try to outsmart regulators, tech companies have dreamed up new services like voice assistants that may be a step ahead of existing laws.

But voters won’t find any clarity from the tech companies that would be most affected by Prop 24. None have come out for or against the measure. It’s politically fraught on both sides — Big Tech publicly supporting it is tantamount to declaring the proposition insufficiently strong, whereas opposing it would be viewed as protecting the tech companies’ own interests.

Voters also seem ambivalent about Prop 24, which at 52 pages is more difficult to parse than even tech companies’ legalese-laden privacy policies. Some Californians are organizing “prop parties” over video chat for friends and family to research this and other ballot initiatives and present arguments on both sides.

California can and should lead the way for the rest of the nation on privacy, but if there is any hope for a federal law, it needs to be easier for voters to understand and needs to be unambiguously pro-consumer.

The existing California privacy law isn’t a panacea, but it took a big leap forward for consumer privacy. Ensuring the loopholes are closed should be a goal, but not at the cost of opening up new ones.

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