Californians Struggle to Remove Personal Data from the Internet
John Gilmore, the head of research at DeleteMe, a company that helps people remove their personal information from websites, understands the difficulty individuals face when trying to scrub their data from the internet. Despite California’s privacy rights, Gilmore acknowledges that the process of deleting personal data is labor-intensive and confusing. The average person struggles to determine whether their efforts are effective or not.
Challenges with California’s Digital Privacy Law
In 2018, California passed a digital privacy law that granted residents the right to request businesses to delete their personal information. However, implementing this protection has proven to be challenging. Californians are required to make deletion requests individually to potentially hundreds of companies, making it nearly impossible to erase their digital footprints. Furthermore, the law includes exceptions that allow businesses to deny deletion requests.
Easing the Process with New Legislation
To address these challenges, legislation known as Senate Bill 362, or the Delete Act, is under consideration in Sacramento. The bill aims to simplify the process by allowing consumers to make a single request to delete their personal information from all data brokers. This legislative proposal has sparked a debate between consumer groups advocating for more control over personal information and tech companies arguing that data flow is crucial for personalized advertising and services.
Data Brokers and the Risks of Personal Information
Data brokers play a significant role in collecting and selling personal information, including details such as addresses, age, marital status, and occupation. While well-known companies like Equifax and Experian are involved in this business, there are hundreds of data brokers that consumers may not be familiar with. These brokers work with various entities, including political campaigns, law enforcement, marketers, and small businesses. Approximately 500 data brokers are registered in California.
The Need for Control over Personal Information
Senator Josh Becker, the author of Senate Bill 362, highlights the importance of giving people control over their personal information. Supporters of the bill argue that personal data collected and sold by data brokers can be weaponized against vulnerable groups such as abortion seekers, undocumented immigrants, and activists. On the other hand, opponents argue that data collection has its advantages, helping businesses deliver relevant ads, enabling law enforcement to solve crimes, and supporting research and nonprofit activities.
The Battle Over the Delete Act
The Delete Act, Senate Bill 362, faces a critical vote this Friday. Business groups representing tech companies, advertisers, political consultants, and credit unions are working to defeat the legislation. Their concerns range from potential negative consequences for consumers to the impact on businesses’ ability to verify consumer identities quickly.
Provisions of the Delete Act
Under the proposed legislation, consumers would have the option to exclude certain data brokers from their deletion requests. Data brokers would be required to delete personal information at least once every 31 days and would be prohibited from selling or sharing new personal information about the consumer. Data brokers collect information from various sources, including public records, social media, retailers, and credit card providers.
Efforts to Protect Personal Information
DeleteMe, a company that assists consumers in removing personal information from data broker websites, supports Senate Bill 362. It believes the legislation would simplify the process and encourage individuals to take an active role in protecting their privacy. One step consumers can take, according to John Gilmore, is to limit the amount of information they provide to businesses.
Past Challenges and Future Possibilities
Previous attempts to regulate data brokers have faced opposition from business groups. Although a federal bill addressing data deletion died last year, similar legislation was reintroduced in January. Senator Becker also introduced a state bill last year, which focused on requiring data brokers to disclose more information when registering with California. These efforts, however, did not advance beyond the committee stage.
A Chance for California to Lead
Supporters of Senate Bill 362, including Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, believe that the concerns raised by opponents are exaggerated. They argue that if California passes this legislation, it will set an example for the rest of the United States and the world. While the battle for the Delete Act will be challenging, supporters remain optimistic about its chances of reaching the governor’s desk.