In California Privacy Debate, It’s Helpful to Listen to Real People

February 4, 2019

DAA Survey spotlights voice of California consumers in privacy & security legislative priorities.

On complicated technology policy issues, one voice is too often absent: the people who would be affected. As California grapples with the implications of the nation’s most far-reaching privacy law, it’s time to bring those consumer voices into the debate.


Last June, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), a piece of legislation that will change the way nearly every major business in the state interacts with its customers and uses data. The goals of CCPA are admirable, including increased transparency, control, access, and security for consumers around their personal information, but the bill passed through the legislature on an expedited timeline, leaving limited time for assessment of how it would create an impact on consumers.


Happily, there is still time to bring those vital consumer voices into the process, as the law grants broad authority over implementation to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and his office is holding a series of public hearings around the state, including one in Sacramento on Tuesday, to help determine the implications of the law and the best ways to enforce it.


As part of that process, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) would like to offer some insights from our experience working with millions of consumers around the same issues over the last decade, as well as data from a recent survey of California residents on some central issues.


Sitting at the nexus of industry standards and consumer choice in digital advertising, the DAA has a unique perspective that may be of use to California policymakers as they work to understand consumer attitudes and behaviors on these complicated policy issues.


One guidepost should be the broad popular support that exists for the current ad-supported model that funds digital content and services. While there are clearly improvements that should be made, as the CCPA endeavors to do, consumers generally see the current system as a fair exchange of value, and they don’t want to undermine the economic framework that powers their online experience.


Supporting this do-no-harm approach, a DAA-commissioned study found that consumers assign a value of nearly $1,200 per year to the free ad-supported services and content available to them on computers and mobile devices. The overwhelming majority of those consumers (85 percent) said they would prefer to finance those services via advertising through the current model than pay out of pocket for them.


Results of a new DAA survey conducted in late January also uncovered some deep consumer concern about the CCPA’s potential impact on their online experience.


Conducted among 1,039 California adults through SurveyMonkey, the survey found four in five California residents (79.6 percent) oppose a requirement for businesses to connect users' anonymous browsing activities to their actual names or accounts (see Figure 1.), and a similarly large number (76.5 percent) oppose a requirement for businesses to connect “pseudonymous” information – like broad aggregated demographic or interest data – with their names or identities.


Figure 1.

Source: DAA-commissioned Survey, SurveyMonkey, January 2019, of 1,039 California Adults.


Unfortunately, the CCPA does not distinguish between those types of data, potentially forcing businesses to connect pseudonymous browsing info with names or households, which could breach the privacy of people who were trying to hide their activities or expose sensitive activities to other people who share the same computer or IP address.


Consumers also expressed deep concern that the access requirements of the CCPA could expose their private information to unauthorized individuals. Highlighting that concern, an overwhelming majority of California respondents (85.6 percent) oppose a requirement allowing anyone with access to a person's e-mail address or account to request all of the information a business has on that person, which may occur under CCPA.


Consumers were also unequivocal in opposing CCPA’s potential obligations for businesses to create detailed new databases about users’ personal activities and information. The vast majority of California residents (87.7 percent) said businesses should only be required to compile and share "generic information" like broad interest or demographic categories on users, not "detailed information" based on users' specific activities, identity and interests.


Finally, a decisive majority of California residents said they would prefer a DAA-style opt-out regime around the collection and sharing of data instead of the strict access controls envisioned by the CCPA. A dramatic 82.5 percent of respondents said it is more important for users to have strong controls over how their information is shared with other companies than for users to have detailed access to all of the information a business has.


As California officials begin the complicated process of turning the CCPA into actionable policy, we urge them to assess how the law would impact the people it was designed to protect, so consumers can continue to enjoy the benefits of the advertising-supported ecosystem, along with the robust new protections intended by the CCPA.

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