Need to Know Act: California Bill Could Force Companies to Disclose That They're Sharing Your Info


Major internet media conglomerates such as Facebook and TechAmerica recently announced their opposition to a bill that would make such companies obligated to disclose any personal data that they have collected as well as who they have been sharing it with. The bill, listed as AB 1291, was proposed in the California state legislature by Long Beach Representative Bonnie Lowenthal (D) on April 1. Among other things, it would force companies to comply with any request to see any personal information shared with any people or corporations, such as advertisers, within thirty days of such a request, and that any violation of such a request could leave those companies subject to civil penalties.

The bill, titled the “Right to Know Act,” has been met with some criticism by corporations like TechAmerica, who’s representatives have argued that the bill would be incredibly cumbersome to implement as well as stifling to some of the companies that receive that information, such as Facebook apps. They have also argued that the bill will open the proverbial floodgates to excessive lawsuits based on the difficulty of these websites to actually be able to deliver on people’s requests to see that much information, especially specifics such as dates and notes regarding personal information. In addition, it would be significantly more difficult for these companies to relay information to apps that rely on the information available to them from Facebook and other websites.

Supporters of the bill have argued that tech-corporations are not transparent enough with their consumers regarding the nature and quantity of the information that they acquire and use from them. Rainey Rietman, activism director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has stated that the bill is a “foundational step” towards establishing a better relationship between consumers and corporations, allowing people to judge for them whether they wish to continue having relationships with corporations that share their information to third parties.

Upon glancing through my Facebook page (after unearthing some very embarrassing high school photos), I found that there was virtually no way of knowing what information the corporation shared with third parties other than by viewing the customized advertising bars on the side of the website, which appear to change based on recent Google searches and emails I have received.

However, while it is certainly the case that more web transparency would be a good thing to have in general, especially regarding personal information of a sensitive nature and how that info is shared, this bill seems like it ultimately wouldn’t significantly help to achieve that. Democratic Representative Rich Gordon of Menlo Park stated, "If industry weighs in and says this works, maybe this bill is the right vehicle — but that's not what I'm hearing right now from industry.”

A more comprehensive bill that addresses not only what information is shared and with whom, but that also gives the users more ability to control what personal information should be made available to third parties and makes more coherent privacy settings on these websites in the first place might be the better course of action.