Californians are very close to getting privacy protections for their web browsing history. But a dangerous new ad campaign is using misinformation to trick internet users into opposing a bill that would give them more control over their personal information. An anonymous advertiser is telling Californians that they will be more vulnerable to hacking or data breach if the legislature passes broadband privacy protections. These claims are not just false – they shamefully exploit internet users’ understandable fears about data security.
California bill AB 375 restores key privacy protections that Congress rolled back earlier this year. It requires broadband providers to get consent from Californians before using or sharing their personal information for purposes outside of providing internet service and responding to emergencies. But the bill will die if legislators don’t vote on it by Friday, and opponents are making last-minute attempts to stop it.
In the wake of a massive data breach at Equifax, Americans are concerned about the security of their personal information, and that concern is justified. But it’s dangerous and disingenuous to prey upon these concerns to suggest that AB 375 might actually increase Californians’ risk of harm from a data breach. Broadband providers have access to huge amounts of information about our online activities and personal lives, and they are eager to find ways to share these insights with marketers. Every additional third party that gets access to that sensitive data increases our risk of exposure to both data breaches and privacy invasions. Far from subjecting Californians to pop-up screens or new data breaches, AB 375 helps Californians minimize the number of third parties that can access their information and gives them more control over their sensitive data.
California has been at the vanguard of advancing privacy protections and data breach notification rules. It has done this while also promoting a flourishing tech industry. AB 375 would continue this tradition, and it is all the more necessary in light of gaps in privacy and data breach protections at the federal level. Internet users need more tools to protect themselves and more control over their personal information, not misinformation that will only make them more vulnerable.
These false ads are extreme, and no one has come forward to claim responsibility for them, but the message behind them isn’t new. For months, industry lobbyists have been spreading the myth that broadband privacy protections will somehow prevent broadband providers from taking measures to protect their customers’ data security. This is not true. On the contrary, AB 375 (like the federal rules on which it is modeled) allows broadband providers to use customers’ information to provide necessary services including data protection and network security. CDT has already set the record straight about the myths created to derail privacy protections that Californians want and deserve. We hope the California legislature sees through this latest and saddest attempt to leverage fear to block much-needed protections.