04 Apr 2013

California Privacy Bill Aims to Tell Users What Companies Know About Them

A new privacy bill aims to empower US citizens to ask for and receive year-long data that’s been collected on them by various companies and corporations.

Much in the same way as European privacy laws allow users to make such requests to Facebook, Google and other online powers, the new California “right to know” bill, introduced by California Assembly Member Bonnie Lowenthal, will force companies to disclose collected user data upon request.

If companies refuse to comply, users can file civil complaints. The new law would also force companies to disclose the names of other companies with whom they shared the personal data.

“A business that has a customer’s personal information and discloses that personal information to a third party shall make the following information available to the customer free of charge,” reads the bill.

Although only California residents would benefit from this law, it could be only a matter of time until other states adopt it as well. With European privacy laws protecting an individuals’ online data privacy from abusive behavior, the US has yet to fall in line with such practices.

While some companies might have a lot to lose from publicly disclosing the data, Facebook’s statement to the US Securities and Exchange Commission in February 2012 emphasizes that the adoption of such a bill could irreversibly damage businesses.

“Our business is subject to complex and evolving U.S. and foreign laws and regulations regarding privacy, data protection, and other matters,” reads the S-1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “Many of these laws and regulations are subject to change and uncertain interpretation, and could result in claims, changes to our business practices, increased cost of operations, or declines in user growth or engagement, or otherwise harm our business.”

Debates are still in progress on whether the bill will be adopted.