Proposition 24 passes in California, pushing privacy rights to the forefront again

The ballot measure closes a loophole in an earlier privacy law.

Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
Expertise E-commerce, Amazon, earned wage access, online marketplaces, direct to consumer, unions, labor and employment, supply chain, cybersecurity, privacy, stalkerware, hacking. Credentials 2022 Eddie Award for a single article in consumer technology
3 min read

California voters approved a ballot measure Tuesday that proponents say will close a loophole in privacy laws and give consumers greater control over targeted advertising.

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California voters approved on Tuesday a ballot measure designed to beef up consumer privacy protections, according to unofficial returns published by the state's secretary of state. Proponents of the measure, known as Proposition 24, say the initiative would close a loophole in the state's current privacy law that lets major tech companies continue to target ads with user data, even when users opt out. 

The proposition is the brainchild of Alastair Mactaggart and Californians for Consumer Privacy, his advocacy group.

"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 in a statement Wednesday.

The proposition's success will let consumers opt out of data collection in a powerful way, Mactaggart said in an interview, supporting companies with business models that don't require data collection to turn a profit. Those businesses will "feast on the companies whose model is pervasive tracking," Mactaggart said.

The measure met with some criticism from privacy advocates who said it didn't go far enough and that it entrenched regulations that could force lower income consumers to let companies collect their data in exchange for paying less for online services. Small-business groups said new regulations would be too onerous for small companies still struggling to recover from the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

A sweeping privacy law passed by the state legislature in 2018 gave Californians the right to request records of data that companies have collected about them, or ask the companies to delete the data or refrain from selling it. The law reverberated through the US, and some tech companies opted to offer the rights it outlined to all US users. Several other states considered similar laws, and some passed them. 

Proposition 24 will create a new state agency to enforce the law, which is currently the job of the California Department of Justice.

Mactaggart said that as California's attorney general began writing regulations for enforcing the 2018 law, it became clear that major social media and internet companies wouldn't be required to stop targeted ads. They didn't consider the ads to be a "sale" of user data, even though they made money from the transactions.

Mactaggart's group got Proposition 24 on the ballot to close that loophole, he said, by letting users ask companies not to "share" their data.

Proposition 24 will also likely set in motion an effort to create a system to let internet users automatically tell websites not to collect their data. Many websites show a pop-up to new visitors letting them either accept their tracking policies or go into a settings section and uncheck several boxes to opt out.

Other sites make it even more complicated, offering a list of several third-party web tracking services that users can visit individually to opt out of their data tracking. 

Mactaggart said he struggles with these user interfaces himself. Proposition 24 could push website owners to streamline the user experience, forcing them to either display a simple "do not sell my data" button, or to honor a setting on the user's web browser that tells websites not to sell their data.

That setting, and a standard that would let websites automatically detect and defer to it, doesn't yet exist. But Mactaggart said Proposition 24 will prompt browser makers to create it to help tech companies comply with the law.