California voters expand data privacy law

California voters have backed an initiative expanding a data privacy law criticized by rights watchdogs as having worrying “loopholes” for firms such as Google and Facebook.

The initiative, which got 56 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, builds on a state law by letting people limit how businesses use data such as their location, race and religion.

It also lets regulators levy fines of up to $7,500 per violation of children’s privacy rights and creates a state agency to enforce the law.

The California Consumer Privacy Act become law at the start of this year, the toughest of its kind in the US.

Like the European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), applied in the European Union since May 2018, the California law guarantees rights regarding control of online data.

Alastair Mactaggart, the wealthy San Francisco real estate developer behind the original law and the act refining it, called its passage historic.

“We are at the beginning of a journey that will profoundly shape the fabric of our society by redefining who is in control of our most personal information and putting consumers back in charge of their own data,” Mactaggart said.

California ACLU officials, however, opposed the initiative, contending it would undermine privacy and increase the burden on people to protect themselves from abuses of their data by big tech companies.

The ACLU of Northern California argued that the initiative was “full of loopholes”.

Flaws in the initiative include “carve-outs written by the credit-reporting industry and new ways to keep consumers in the dark about what companies are doing with their personal information,” according to the ACLU.

The initiative limits businesses that have to comply with the law to only companies that buy or sell data of at least 100,000 households a year, the ACLU noted.

Critics point out that Facebook or Google could claim to be exempt regarding online data they don’t pay for but is used to target advertising.

The change to the law also makes it easier for businesses to charge people more if they refuse to let their data be used, according to critics.

Backers of the initiative contended that the laws will set the bar for privacy rights in the US.

“I look forward to ushering in a new era of consumer privacy rights with passage of the California Privacy Rights Act,” said Californians for Consumer Privacy board chairman Andrew Yang. (AFP)

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