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California Law Would Let You Know Who's Got Your Data

State lawmakers push to pass a bill requiring companies to tell you exactly what personal data they've shared with other companies
California Assembly



Flickr/Steve Shupe

California legislators could pass a bill that would require companies to tell you exactly what personal data they've shared with other companies. Known as the "Right to Know Act of 2013," the bill yanks California consumer law in line with today's technology, expanding coverage to include online advertising networks, along with pesky direct marketers.

Under Assembly Bill 1291, if a California resident asks a company for personal information that's been shared with any other party, the company would be required to provide a detailed response within 30 days at no charge to the consumer. And when California says detailed, that's exactly what it means.

Currently, a company must only provide records for personal information it has released to direct marketers that, in turn, send junk mail or call you with some solicitation. The bill's author, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, says that releasing personal data can cause more damage than an overstuffed mailbox.

"Women have even been hurt or killed when cell providers or apps have shared location data  with their abusers," Lowenthal said on her website. 

Under the bill, companies must tell you who they've released any personal data to in the past 12 months from the date of your request. They must provide not only the name of the company they sent info to, but contact information for the company as well.

Further, they must provide you with a copy of exactly what data was shared. There are 19 types of data listed in the bill, and while the list seems exhaustive, it contains the phrase "includes the following, but is not limited to," which is broad language that should help close any loopholes.

For instance, the bill's definition for identity  information includes real name, alias, nickname, and user name. Likewise, the content section aims to cover just about everything, such as text, photographs, audio or video recordings and other material generated by by you or provided by you.

The only limitation placed on a business is that it need not answer more than one request by a customer over a 12-month period, as long as the request is for the same information.

The proposed bill also includes some ominous language for companies that fail to comply: A violation of this section by a business subject to these provisions is deemed to constitute an injury to a customer.Translation: possible big bucks to consumers who go to court seeking damages from an unresponsive company.

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