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Regulations proposed on June 1, 2020, to implement the recently enacted California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), provide that consumers will now have the right to know what personal information businesses collect, use, share or sell; the right to delete personal information; the right to opt-out of the sale of personal information; and the right to direct a business to stop selling that information.

The CCPA applies to companies that have gross annual revenues in excess of $25 million; or that buy, receive, or sell the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices; or that derive 50 percent or more of annual revenues from selling consumers’ personal information.

Our Personal Data Is Worth Billions to Online Companies

Opinion

Daniel O. Jamison

Under the proposed regulations, businesses must also disclose financial incentives offered in exchange for the retention or sale of a consumer’s personal information and how they were calculated.  The CCPA aims to protect over $12 billion worth of personal information annually.

Should one accept a financial incentive?

Our data has immense value to a Google, Amazon or Facebook.  In Rana Foroohar’s book “Don’t Be Evil,” which takes the first line of Google’s original Code of Conduct for its title, she notes that each new search, e-mail or map query generates more users, then more users, more data sets, more advertising, more profit, and more monopolization.

Every Search and Email Generates More Value

She quotes Roger McNamee’s observation in his book, “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe,” that from your search or e-mail Google receives value in at least three ways: from advertising to you, from the geometric value in the increase in advertising value from combining data sets, and from new ways to use data from combining data sets.

According to Ms. Foroohar, Google has 88 percent of the U.S. search engine market with 95 percent of all mobile searches; two-thirds of Americans use Facebook.  Market dominance allows them to prefer their own products and services and keep competitors off of their gateway networks.

Similarities to Robber Barons of 1800s

The Robber Barons of the late 1800s used the railroads in the same way.  Railroads were gateways to bring products to market. By owing both the railroads and oil companies, for example, they could prefer transport of their oil and products to market while keeping competing oil companies from using the railroads by either refusing service or charging them discriminatory rates.

The cost to us, in reality, is immeasurably huge: loss of privacy, destabilization of society from the growing wealth divide, inability to know what is happening with our personal information due to the inscrutable algorithms of an arrogant and powerful technical elite, and ultimately loss of the nation’s soul.

Their enormous power birthed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Interstate Commerce Commission, but the inherent problem of a company both owning the market platform and doing business on it is back with a vengeance.  Here, for example, a competitor of Google (such as a focused local search product) can be relegated to page 6 of the search list while Google’s similar product comes up first.

As Ms. Foroohar writes, “Silicon Valley is the richest industry in history, rich enough to buy its way out of a lot of trouble.  Its products are bright and shiny and life-changing enough that we are all too often willing to settle for the dark trade-offs…The good that it does—the information sharing, the relationship building, the productivity enhancing—has been made possible by the bad: the spying, the selling, and the utter breaches of truth and public trust.  Because the positives have been so divine…. the diabolical negatives have been overlooked.”

‘Free’ Services Come With Immeasurable Costs

So what is our data worth?  If 10 million users are annually worth $10 billion to a company, perhaps $500 each annually?  But wait, don’t we get “free” services for our information?  The cost to us, in reality, is immeasurably huge: loss of privacy, destabilization of society from the growing wealth divide, inability to know what is happening with our personal information due to the inscrutable algorithms of an arrogant and powerful technical elite, and ultimately loss of the nation’s soul.

In “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” Daniel Webster’s client signed a contract to give the Devil his soul in return for seven years of prosperity.  When the seven years were up, the great early American lawyer-politician persuaded the Devil’s jury of the damned not to enforce the contract, arguing humankind has been “tricked and trapped and bamboozled,” but it ought not to cost a person’s soul.

Today, no Webster is on the scene, so I say, “Delete, do not keep, share or sell.”

About the Author

Daniel O. Jamison is an attorney with Dowling Aaron Incorporated in Fresno, California.  He can be reached at djamison@dowlingaaron.com.

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