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Fight Is on Over New California Privacy Bill

10 Apr, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The fight is on over a new bill that would require companies like Facebook and Google to disclose to users the personal data they’ve collected and who’ve they have shared it with.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that Silicon Valley is up in arms with privacy advocates over the first-of-its-kind California bill dubbed the “Right to Know Act.” Insiders say and it could have national impact because of California’s size, and it would bring the state’s privacy practices closer to those common in Europe.

The bill, seen as an update of a 10-year-old law focused on the direct marketing industry, was introduced in February by Bonnie Lowenthal, a Democratic assemblywoman from Long Beach. It would make Internet companies, upon request, share with Californians personal information they’ve collected – including buying habits, physical location and sexual orientation – and what they have passed on to third parties, such as marketing companies, app makers and other companies that collect and sell data.

The paper quoted Lowenthal: “In 2003, the biggest problem people had with privacy was telemarketing. Today, there are so many different mobile apps that can track location and spending habits that it’s time for an update in state law.”

A coalition of businesses and trade groups wrote to Lowenthal in late March urging her not to move forward with a bill that seeks to impose “costly and unrealistic mandates” that could leave them vulnerable to lawsuits, according to a copy of the letter reviewed by the WSJ.

European law requires that companies must disclose to users which data they collect. Several heavyweights, including Facebook and Google, already offer users options to see some information stored about them.

The proposed new California law would go a step further by also requiring Internet companies to disclose what information they have shared with third parties. And it might require Facebook to disclose more about how third-party apps receive information about users through their friends.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal found that some of the most popular Facebook apps seek E-mail addresses, current location and sexual orientation, among other details, not only of app users but also of their Facebook friends. Facebook said it acts against app developers who are found to violate its policies.

Robert Callahan, director of state government affairs at TechAmerica, said Web companies already seek to protect users’ privacy. But because websites sometimes gather personal information without attaching it to a user’s name, it would be onerous – and perhaps even impossible ¬– for them to provide individuals with the information this bill requires, he said. “The burden placed on innovative Internet companies in California – would that outweigh the benefit to consumers of having a deluge of amorphous information?” Callahan asked.

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