Ever get the feeling someone’s watching you? You know you do.
In fact, just about everyone — and everything — is watching you. That really spiffy smart TV you got for Christmas? They don’t call them “smart” for nothing.
If your new TV connects directly to the internet, it’s potentially a spy. It’s not just newer smart TVs. Just about any device that connects to the internet, from video streaming to gizmos that remotely lock the front door, has spy potential by design. Businesses want to know your viewing habits so they can tailor ads to fit your specific wants and needs.
Not only is the TV gathering your personal data, third-party apps on those platforms are also storing and sharing your information. Think of it as sort of the electronic version of building a pyramid.
There are ways to configure your new TV to prevent it from sharing what you don’t want shared, but it can be complicated to put those controls into operation.
Or, you could be one of the 40 million or so California residents who recently were given new privacy rights by state law. As of Jan. 1, Californians have the right to not only review personal information gathered by large companies, they also have the power to compel companies such as banks, retailers and tech companies to stop selling that information. And if the consumer chooses, he or she can require the company to delete the data. All of it.
Without such privacy rules, companies can collect your personal information, including history of purchases and tracking your whereabouts, to create profiles that put viewers into certain categories, sorted by religion, ethnicity and/or sexual orientation.
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The law defines data sales so broadly that it covers nearly all information sharing that can help a business, including data transfers between corporate affiliates, and with those third-party entities whose business is using your personal information for profit.
These are things you likely haven’t been thinking about as you enjoy the various streaming services you use almost every night. While you laugh at “The Unicorn” or quake in fear at “Evil,” businesses across the planet can be collecting your personal data, and pretty much doing with it as they please. That’s far creepier than “American Horror Story.” Well, maybe not.
The new law is a trend-setter in the United States. It applies to virtually any company that interacts with California residents, which means just about every company on Earth.
The California law could be a de facto national standard, which is not at all unusual. This state has long been the flag carrier for a lot of future national policy.
Early signs of compliance have already started cropping up in the form of “Don't sell my personal information” links at the bottom of many corporate websites.
California lawmakers almost never go half-way with a policy, but they may have hedged a bit on this law. It is evident the corporate world will not give in without a fight. The new California Consumer Privacy Act seems almost a sure thing to provoke lawsuits raising constitutional issues over its extensive scope. Critics say the law also has some obvious loopholes, especially in that it affects only information collected by businesses, but not by government agencies. That alone could be the legal poison pill.
There also is the matter of Californians struggling with how to use their privacy rights. Will we take the initiative to opt out of data sales, requests for information and legal relief for data breaches?
Are you up to the challenge?