Rachael Myrow [00:00:48] Well, Olivia, it all starts at a dinner party.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:00:51] This is Rachael Myrow, senior editor of KQED's Silicon Valley Desk.
Rachael Myrow [00:00:55] This Bay Area real estate developer named Alastair Mactaggart gets to talking with a Google engineer at this party.
Alastair Mactaggart [00:01:02] There was something in the press that day about privacy, and I asked him, hey, what's – is there a big deal about this? And I expect him to say, nothing to see here. And he said, you'd be terrified if you knew how much we knew about everybody.
Rachael Myrow [00:01:14] So he goes home and he starts learning about this global industry where people are buying and selling our data, essentially.
Alastair Mactaggart [00:01:20] We're being tracked 24/7, 365. All of your searches, all of your location, who you're standing next to, what apps you have installed, what you're interested in.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:01:32] Alastair Mactaggart decides to write a ballot proposition with a bunch of consumer privacy protections that he wants to see put in place. Lawmakers and the tech industry take notice, and they were worried that if a proposition like that went before voters and passed, it would be super difficult to amend.
Rachael Myrow [00:01:49] They got him to wave it off with the promise that there would be a bill that would be passed in the state legislature and that during the legislative year that followed, there would be lots of little amendments that could be discussed, debated, passed or killed. And that's exactly what happened.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:02:08] The California Consumer Privacy Act passes in 2018, then goes into effect in January of this year. You know, those dialog boxes that pop up when you visit websites all the time now? The ones with the big "accept" button. Yeah, that's the California Consumer Privacy Act [CCPA] in action.
Rachael Myrow [00:02:28] Basically, you can think about it in five easy pieces, right.
Rachael Myrow [00:02:35] Number one, you have the right to go to any company that's collecting information about you and ask, what are you collecting – specifically? Like, send me the details.
Rachael Myrow [00:02:46] Number two, you have the right to tell that company to delete your information.
Rachael Myrow [00:02:52] Three, you have the right to demand that the company not sell the information on.
Rachael Myrow [00:02:57] Number four, you, the consumer, can sue only if a company's negligence leads to a hack that exposes your data. Otherwise, only the state attorney general's office can sue.
Rachael Myrow [00:03:10] Finally, number five, companies can't create this two tier system where you get a lesser package of goods and services if you try to exercise your rights to privacy under the CCPA.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:03:27] So, that's the California Consumer Privacy Act, which is in effect already. But Mactaggart and a lot of others aren't quite satisfied.
Rachael Myrow [00:03:35] You know, a lot of people would describe it as a hot mess. And, you know, quite possibly Mactaggart as well, because he's back with this second proposition. It's more of what he wants to see and less of what is kind of collectively hashed out by all of these different power players in Sacramento.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:03:55] OK. So that gets us to today, we're looking at Prop 24 on our ballot, a new collection of privacy measures. Rachel, what are we voting on here?
Rachael Myrow [00:04:03] So many things, Olivia. Too many things, in fact, to explain without going into some depth. I'm going to talk about four of the biggies, although actually, why don't we have Mactaggart talk about, number one:.
Alastair Mactaggart [00:04:13] Recreate a new category of sensitive personal information. That's your race, your ethnicity, your health information, your sexual orientation. And you get to tell a business, look, that stuff is so sensitive, you shouldn't even be able to use it.
Rachael Myrow [00:04:29] Proposition 24 goes into further detail about what it defines as "sensitive data". Number two, tougher fines for companies that violate children's privacy rights. Number three, no holding onto data longer than necessary. Unclear exactly what that means, but that's a concept in there. Number four, news state agency. This Olivia, I think, is the most intriguing aspect of Proposition 24, the creation of a new regulatory agency funded at a bare minimum of ten million dollars a year to work in tandem with the state attorney general's office.
Alastair Mactaggart [00:05:07] We should have more privacy professionals in this agency than right now exist in the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] for the entire country. The FTC only has about 40 lawyers for the entire country for privacy. And we'll have about the same number here in California once it gets funded up and operating if the initiative passes.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:05:21] Rachel, I thought Thomas was already the case under current consumer privacy law. Like that I could tell companies not to use my sensitive info.
Rachael Myrow [00:05:31] Right. That's one of the confusing things about Proposition 24, that it promises to enshrine some things that are already law. Of course, there's very little enforcement, and companies, big and small sidestep the laws a lot. So, it's possible a new purpose built regulatory agency in Sacramento might enforce better behavior.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:05:51] Mactaggart says consumer privacy protections would be more secure if this prop passes.
Alastair Mactaggart [00:05:57] CCPA right now is "just a law". It can get amended by the legislature tomorrow.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:06:02] Voter passed initiatives are harder to amend. But Mactaggart says this one does give legislators a little more flexibility.
Alastair Mactaggart [00:06:09] We do give the legislature the power to invent it, even with just a simple majority vote. But here's the sort of protection: It has to be amended in furtherance of the purpose and intent of the act. And we have a section which is kinda of like a bill of rights for privacy, it just says, hey look, you can amend it, just don't hurt consumers.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:06:29] But this one isn't all about increasing privacy for consumers. There are some provisions that seem like they might have the opposite effect.
Rachael Myrow [00:06:37] Frankly, Olivia, here's where things get confusing. I mean, on the one hand, Prop 24 directs companies to collect only what they need to provide you with their service. But it would be easier for companies to refuse to delete your information when you asked them to. And easier for companies to squirrel out of making sure that other companies get some of that data are also complying with your request not to use it.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:07:02] Prop 24 would also reduce the number of companies that have to comply with these privacy laws. Companies that buy or sell data from less than 100,000 households a year would be exempt.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:07:18] Where do the companies who this prop could impact come down on this one?
Rachael Myrow [00:07:22] That's an excellent question. And I really want to take this moment to make the point that we're not just talking about tech companies like Facebook and Google collecting and selling your data. We've reached the point now in the global economy where your insurance company is in this game, your broadband provider, your retail outlets, and a host of companies you've never even heard of, located all over the world. And while we saw a lot of lobbyists paid for by these companies, saying a lot of things very loudly when the rollout of the current consumer privacy law was in play, most of them seemed to be weirdly silent right now. There are different ideas about why that is, but the one I've heard most often is that the industry knows data collection is not popular, knows that consumer privacy is popular, so, they're just staying in the shadows to avoid blowback at the ballot box.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:08:17] All right. Well, let's get into what makes this prop sort of especially fascinating to me. Who is for and against it? I understand that it's kind of all over the place.
Rachael Myrow [00:08:26] Yes. People and groups who are usually on the same page are split on this one.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:08:32] OK, let's start with who's for it.
Rachael Myrow [00:08:33] Consumer WatchDog, Common Sense, The L.A. Times Editorial Board, and perhaps the biggest headliner of all, Andrew Yang, former presidential candidate who was one of the foremost techies on the early campaign trail. I would say, to put it succinctly, these folks like the basic premise of expanding consumer rights, and they trust Alastair Mactaggart, that his heart is in the right place, even if the language of the proposition is convoluted and unclear. The political action committee supporting the group is reporting 5.4 million dollars in contributions – nearly all of that, Olivia, from Alastair Mactaggart.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:09:13] And who's come out against it?
Rachael Myrow [00:09:15] On the no side we've got the Consumer Federation of California, Media Alliance, a couple chapters of the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union]. These groups are against 24 for a host of different reasons. Some say the state doesn't really need another regulatory agency, which Prop 24 would create. Others think this prop is simply the wrong way to solve this type of problem because laws voted in as propositions are harder to amend than laws passed by the state legislature.
Rachael Myrow [00:09:45] I should also mention the no side has spent nowhere near the amount of money Mactaggart has. To date, not even 50 grand, according to the secretary of state's website.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:09:56] And we should also mention that there are some pretty notable groups like Consumer Reports and the Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF] who are not taking a side.
Rachael Myrow [00:10:05] Yes. And this is particularly interesting to me. I reached out to Hayley Tsukayama, a legislative analyst at EFF, which is a well-respected consumer data privacy advocate.
Hayley Tsukayama [00:10:16] So, I'm not saying it's the worst thing in the world, I'm just, it's not something that we felt able to support.
Rachael Myrow [00:10:23] The EFF has dug into the details in a tech savvy way, but also they haven't locked into a political position that makes you worry they're shoving other concerns behind the curtain, trying to show a united front.
Hayley Tsukayama [00:10:36] I just think there are enough things in here that I don't know what they would do, functionally, and I don't know how hard they will be to fix if they do end up being wrong. It's a funny time in privacy law, right? We're trying a lot of things. We're seeing what there's political appetite for. We're seeing what there's consumer appetite for.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:10:57] So, she wants to see the new privacy law that we already have play out for a bit, sounds like.
Rachael Myrow [00:11:02] Yeah.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:11:03] I mean, that's kind of taking a side?
Rachael Myrow [00:11:06] I mean, mainly in the sense that the EFF is following an ancient maxim in California ballot box politics: When in doubt, don't vote yes. I don't get the impression reading the foundation's blog post explaining their position that anyone at the foundation believes Prop 24 is world ending or an unfixable giveaway to industry. It's just, as we've been talking about, it's way too hard to understand, even to people who know the territory.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:11:34] All right. Well, Rachael Myrow, thank you for walking us through this one.
Rachael Myrow [00:11:38] My pleasure.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:11:45] In a nutshell, a vote yes on Proposition 24 says you want to see California's consumer data privacy laws expanded as outlined in the full 50 plus page text of this proposition. And you support creating a new state agency to enforce these laws. A no vote means businesses will continue to follow California's current data privacy laws and the state's Department of Justice would continue to enforce them.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:12:14] That's it on Proposition 24. We'll be back tomorrow with our final episode of Prop Fest. It'll cover Prop 25, which would end the use of cash bail in California. So it's a big one. Catch up on all of our prop fest episodes in our podcast feed or online at Bay Curious dot org slash prop fest.
Olivia Allen-Price [00:12:34] One reminder, October 19th is the last day you can register to vote. That's this coming Monday. Bay Curious Prop Fest is produced by Katrina Schwartz, Katie McMurran, Rob Speight and me, Olivia Allen-Price. Our show was made in San Francisco at member supported KQED.