California residents could soon be awarded stronger online privacy protections when buying download-able products — such as music, movies, television shows, e-books, and apps — if a bill written by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and approved by the Assembly on Thursday passes the state Senate and receives Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.
With recent incidents at Target, Michaels, and Neiman Marcus casting aspersions on merchants’ ability to safeguard customers’ personal information, Jackson said that her bill would close a loophole in online purchasing. The proposal, SB 383, would require that sellers of certain download-able content only ask for credit card users’ — the law wouldn’t apply to debit card users — personal information if they deem it necessary for the prevention of fraud or identity theft; if collecting the information were required, the information would have to be destroyed after a certain period of time. The law would also make selling the data, or using it for marketing, illegal.
Although supported by organizations such as the Consumer Federation of California, Consumer Action, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, SB 383 has faced opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Bankers Association, and several technology-industry groups. Jackson said Wednesday that her idea for the bill — first introduced in early 2013 — came from a ruling by the California Superior Court last year that permitted online merchants to ask for buyers’ addresses, phone numbers, and other information.
“This measure is a balanced approach that ensures that when it comes to purchasing content that is downloaded online, our Constitutional right to privacy remains intact,” Jackson said in a statement. “We are living in a new digital age when that basic right is being challenged in ways we could never have imagined 40 years ago [when right to privacy was established],” she continued. On Wednesday, Jackson called SB 383 a “modest bill” that is “delicately balanced” between consumers’ rights and companies’ needs. “We want them to combat fraud but not to sell information,” she said.
Not all personal information would be up for argument. “Finding out what color your eyes are wouldn’t work for fraud purposes,” Jackson said Wednesday. The information that does pass the sniff test would be later deleted, akin to how gas pumps require credit card users to provide their billing zip codes, which go on to be destroyed. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse founder Beth Givens summed up her support of Jackson’s bill on Wednesday. “In the age of mega data breaches, this is a vitally important bill for consumer protection,” she said. “If you don’t collect it, it can’t be hacked.”