Free Future

California’s Landmark Commercial Transparency Law: a 10-Year Evaluation

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:39pm

In 2003, California passed a landmark piece of legislation called the Shine the Light law, which gave Californians the right to learn how companies share their personal information for “direct marketing purposes.” Now that ten years have passed since that law was enacted, my colleagues at the ACLU of California have written a report evaluating how the law has turned out—and looking at the role of transparency in general when it comes to private companies and their handling of privacy.

As the study’s authors Nicole Ozer and Matthew Cagle argue,

Although recent studies show increased public concern about the privacy of personal information, consumers understand very little about the technologies and privacy policies that govern the information itself. When transparency requirements reveal how personal information is treated, consumers make more privacy-protective choices and companies are incentivized to adopt privacy protective practices.

The authors marshal convincing evidence to back up that statement. And then they not only evaluate how the Shine the Light law has fared in the past decade, but look at how the world has changed since it was first passed, survey growing national support for consumer transparency measures, and make clear recommendations in four areas for strengthening the law.

Not only has California has famously been dubbed a “bellwether” state, but 1 in 8 Americans is a Californian, so its efforts and experiences in the privacy area always carry national importance. The report can be found here, and a blog post by Ozer summarizing its major takeaways is here.

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