Facebook, Google spending big bucks to fight California data privacy measure

Imagine a hyper-connected world where dating applications build 800-page profiles or your Internet behavior and taste in love interests, or track your one night stands based on the overnight location of your cell phone.

Or, what if health insurance companies gathered information on exercise habits and how frequently your car enters fast-food drive thrus to determine your coverage rates? Would you care if social media companies logged all the questionable things you considered posting, but thought better of?

It’s all possible and some of this is happening right now, warn the proponents of a ballot measure initiative to give California consumers more Internet privacy.

“This initiative, it will give them the power to take back some of that control and put some transparency and accountability back into a system that desperately needs it,” said Mary Ross, president of Californians for Consumer Privacy.

The California Consumer Privacy Act would require big companies to disclose the type of information they gather, explain how it is shared or sold and give people the right to prevent businesses from spreading their personal data.

The initiative has months to qualify for the November ballot and will likely become one of the most expensive fights this year.

Google, Facebook, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have contributed $200,000 each to a campaign finance committee opposing the initiative since mid-February. The proponents, a trio of Bay Area business professionals, expect the Internet behemoths will eventually pour in over $100 million to try to stop the measure from passing.

Steve Maviglio, spokesperson for a coalition opposing the measure that includes the California Chamber of Commerce, Technet, and the Internet Association, said the proposal is flawed. His group, the Committee to Protect California Jobs, plans to make the case that it will lead major companies to flee California.

“This ballot measure disconnects California. It is unworkable, requiring the internet in California to operate differently – limiting our choices hurting our businesses, and cutting our connection to the global economy,” he said.

Alastair Mactaggart, a real estate developer, has ponied up $2 million to Californians for Consumer Privacy to date. Mactaggart, who serves as chairman of the committee, said he doesn’t anticipate matching his opponents dollar for dollar.

“At this point, we have the resources to get us on the ballot and to do a reasonable job,” Mactaggart said. “We think the average voters look at this and think, ‘why wouldn’t I vote for this?'”

The campaign may receive a boost as Americans grow more concerned about their Internet data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The political consulting firm, funded by Republican donor Robert Mercer and Stephen Bannon, acquired personal Facebook data from over 50 million profiles and used the information to help President Donald Trump’s campaign, according to reports.

“We know we’re on the side of something people really want and are clamoring for,” added Rick Arney, a co-author of the initiative.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the California Democratic Party is a supporter of the measure.