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‘Delete Act’ Seeks to Give Californians More Power to Block Data Tracking

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A close up of a woman's hands as she holds a smartphone and is swiping the screen. She wears an orange jacket.
The California Delete Act would give Californians control of their personal online data. (istock/GaudiLab)

With Congress stalled on protecting consumer privacy online, California has taken matters into its own hands: On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee in Sacramento is expected to consider a new bill that promises to put a little more power into consumers’ hands.

By now, many people are used to those little boxes that pop up whenever they visit a website for the first time. The boxes prompt the user to accept cookies, which then track and sell users’ data. People can also reject cookies, or pick and choose the information they’re open to sharing.

Those boxes come courtesy of a couple of privacy laws passed in California, along with other protections like a data broker registry in the state.

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“Which is good, right? It’s good to know who these companies are,” said Hayley Tsukayama, senior legislative activist with San Francisco-based nonprofit the Electronic Frontier Foundation; EFF is dedicated to civil liberties in the digital age.

Tsukayama said that what most experts in the field agree on is that California law leads the nation in this space, but that it’s still barely enforced. The onus is on individuals to try to protect their data from an estimated 2,000–4,000 data brokers worldwide — many of which have no other relationship with consumers beyond the trade in their data. This lucrative trade is also known as surveillance advertising, or the “ad tech” industry.

The Delete Act: An iterative change to California law

In a privacy advocate’s ideal world, Tsukayama said, California would fight a lot harder on consumers’ behalf, but “that’s not the law that California has on the books, and it’s clearly a law that California has shown it’s not willing to pass. So, you know, we work with what we have.”

A close up shot of a computer screen that shows a pop-up about accepting or deleting internet cookies.
On Tuesday, April 25, 2023, the Senate Judiciary Committee in Sacramento is expected to consider the California Delete Act (SB 362), which promises to put more power into consumers’ hands. (Sean Gladwell/Getty Images)

EFF supports the Delete Act, or SB 362, by state Sen. Josh Becker, who represents the Peninsula.

More on Data Privacy

“I want to be able to hit that delete button and delete my personal information, delete the ability of these data brokers to collect and track me,” said Becker, of his second attempt to pass such a bill. “These data brokers are out there analyzing, selling personal information. You know, this is a way to put a stop to it.”

Tracy Rosenberg, a data privacy advocate with Media Alliance and Oakland Privacy, said she anticipates a lot of pushback from tech companies, because “making [the Delete Act] workable probably destroys their businesses as most of us, by now, don’t really see the value in the aggregating and sale of our data on the open market by third parties …

“It is a pretty basic-level philosophical battle about whether your personal information is, in fact, yours to share as you see appropriate and when it is personally beneficial to you, or whether it is property to be bought and sold,” Rosenberg said.

Likely opposition

SB 362 isn’t on the California Chamber of Commerce’s “job killer” list this year, but the group typically opposes anything that tightens consumer privacy online. The Chamber recently asked a Sacramento Superior Court judge to force the state to hold off enforcing the California Consumer Privacy Act (CPRA) until at least July 1, “until businesses receive the implementation time that the voters approved, 12 months after regulations are adopted.”

The companies that buy and sell consumer data claim that targeted advertising is a benefit because the ads that follow people around the internet more closely align with their interests. But that data can also be used by insurance companies, employers and law enforcement.

“You can look at precise geolocation where someone is. You can know the products they buy. You can know what websites they visit. This is being used for identity theft, people tracking down their exes. We think about reproductive rights. There’s very real consequences, right?” Becker said.

He added that public awareness is higher today than during his last attempt, which makes him more confident he’ll succeed this time.

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