Protect Free Internet Access for All

Like a high-quality education, the internet has the promise to be the great equalizer. Whether rich or poor, black, brown or white, old or young, equal access to information and resources online can help bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Unfortunately, equal access to the internet and its daily conveniences is in jeopardy. Action by Sacramento lawmakers is desperately needed this year to ensure the internet remains the great equalizer it has become. Specifically, a legislative fix is needed to ensure modern online advertising remains viable to support the free online services we enjoy and rely on today. Without this action, a flaw in the rushed privacy law passed last year threatens to create broad gaps in internet accessibility affecting those less fortunate.

Most of us currently take for granted our reliance on free online services such as driving directions, surfing the web, watching videos, accessing social media or using email. Much like we get free television programming because networks sell commercials, the free internet is made possible because internet sites serve us ads, many tailored to our interests. Importantly, the services and conveniences of the internet are significantly more critical than television programming to connecting underserved Californians with education, jobs and transportation.

The threat to free internet services and apps is one of the unintended casualties of last year’s well-meaning passage of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The legislation is intended to give consumers more control over their personal data and information, but it was introduced and rushed through the legislative process in just one week with little opportunity for thorough vetting to identify possible flaws. Because of this rush, it was and is widely understood that clean up legislation would be necessary before the law goes into effect in June 2020.

One of those issues for clean-up is a flaw in the law’s drafting that would hinder tailored online advertising by prohibiting the sharing of technical information required to make online ads work. This was never the intent of CCPA and must be corrected this year.

This policy fix is needed to ensure the CCPA does not unintentionally prohibit the continued use of internet advertising tailored to the specific interests of consumers. Tailored ads are delivered using unique identifying numbers attached to computers, tablets and phones and do not rely on sensitive information such as an individual’s name, address, social security number or banking information.

The fix also would clarify that when a consumer opts-out of the “sale” of their personal information, it does not restrict the ability of companies to continue to show targeted ads to that consumer, so long as providing those ads only relies on sharing this technical data, not any sensitive personal information.

If ad targeting becomes more difficult or impossible, services we get for free today could start costing money. Imagine having to pay every time you search the internet, use an app to get directions, or check email or social media. These costs could quickly add up and create a growing gap of available education and employment opportunities between the haves and have-nots in California.

We can protect the privacy of consumers’ sensitive personal information without destroying all the progress made to close the digital divide.

We must ensure continued equal and free access to the internet for all Californians.

Legislative Fix Needed to Keep Internet Applications Free in California

No matter where you go in California, you’re likely to see someone on their smartphone, tablet or computer using an app or other online service to look something up, watch a video, send an email, check social media or the weather, or any number of the dozens of things people do online every day. Today, most of these online activities are free, meaning whether you are a college student researching a paper, a single mom looking for a job, or a small employer sending an email to your staff, the internet provides everyone from all walks of life equal and free access to information and services critical to our everyday lives. But these free services that have helped level the socio-economic playing field are at risk unless a policy fix is passed in Sacramento this year.

In 2018, the State Legislature hastily passed a sweeping measure known as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). This law was intended to give consumers more understanding and control of their online personal data and information, something we all support.

But the introduction and passage of the CCPA took place quickly, in just one week. It was widely understood at the time that clean-up legislation would be needed in 2019 to work out unintended consequences that would no doubt come to light after people had time to digest the massive new law. Many flaws did come to light. One of the most significant has to do with language in the CCPA that hinders tailored online advertising by prohibiting the sharing of technical information necessary to make the ads work. These ads are a major reason why many online services are free now, and unless fixed this year, this flaw in the CCPA could result in new costs for online services we take for granted and get for free today.

These additional costs would widen the digital divide between those who can afford to pay and those who cannot. Certainly, legislators don’t want to do that. Tailored online ads are similar to commercials in free television programming. Advertisers pay for commercials which are inserted throughout shows letting us watch for free. Online ads help make it possible to have free access to online services we take for granted.

Tailored ads are delivered using unique identifying numbers attached to computers, tablets and phones and do not rely on sensitive personal information such as an individual’s name, address, social security number or banking information.

A policy fix would clarify that when a consumer opts-out of the “sale” of their personal information, it does not restrict the ability of companies to continue to market targeted ads to that same consumer as long as those ads rely on sharing technical information only, not personally identifiable information. Targeted ads may sometimes be annoying, but they are not a real threat to our privacy. California’s privacy laws should be focused on stopping identity theft, hackers, and criminal activity that puts our finances and safety at risk.

The needed policy fix will continue to uphold the primary provisions of the CCPA and safeguard our privacy while still ensuring equal and free access to the internet for all.

We talk about bridging the “Digital Divide.” As of last year, California had the highest poverty rate in the nation. The people most at risk of being left behind are those who already suffer from a lack of access to resources and will be the least likely to be able to afford paying higher costs to access services online.

In today’s fast-paced world, we cannot afford to continue to marginalize these segments of our society that are already disadvantaged. Let’s keep the internet free for all.

Changes urged in new Consumer Privacy Act

I believe in the American Dream because I am lucky enough to be the American Dream. And I’m not alone; there are millions of business owners in California and I imagine some of them share my success story.

As we built our businesses, we relied on our nation’s democracy to make our dreams come true and now I’m using that very democracy to keep my dreams alive. I’m writing today to specifically advocate for a legislative fix to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) by asking my representatives to continue to allow the use of tailored online advertising.

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) ensures that consumers have the right to know the information any business has collected on them.

These rights are important, but some aspects of the law are incredibly challenging for small businesses like mine to implement. Other aspects of the law are vague and unintentionally wipe out major sources of revenue, most notably the language related to online advertising.

Before any of these issues were a part of my lexicon, though, I was just a girl born to immigrant parents who came to this country from the Philippines to escape poverty and to give my three sisters and me a chance at success.

We were on a strict budget growing up. I worked as many as three jobs simultaneously, moved many times, and my poverty mentality caught up with me as I amassed credit card debt. Eventually, I began to heal my complicated relationship with money and decided to blog about it in hopes of helping others.

It’s common for white men to write about finance, wealth, and money management, but I felt strongly that a young, female Filipina would provide a different perspective to many online users – especially millennials who are struggling due to rising living costs and exorbitant student loans. Thus, my blog Baller on a Budget was born.

Through this blog, I chronicled my path to financial freedom. I accomplished feats I never thought possible: At 23, I paid off my credit card debt; I bought my own car with cash; made almost $40,000 during my second year of blogging, and purchased my own home at the age of 26 with my boyfriend.

The blog discusses both the good and the bad experiences I encountered along the way. To support and monetize this content, I turned to advertisements. This allows anyone to access my blog without having to pay a subscription fee. Now, the advertisements make up a significant amount of my income and my blog remains free for anyone who wants to read it.

We need clarifying language to assure that online entrepreneurs like myself can continue to make a living like this and also protect consumers’ privacy.

As my practice currently stands, I don’t handle any personal information of any readers or process any payments. The online advertising I use relies on privacy practices in which identifiers that are not directly tied to a person are transferred. Advertisers do not need to know a reader’s name, address, or any other personally identifiable information.

I rely on “ad networks” to make this all happen as I cannot run my own advertisement program, nor would I even begin to know what ads would even be relevant to my readers. This is a separate business in its own right.

As the CCPA currently stands, all of this would be jeopardized. And in some way, so too would the free flow of information, which is at the very heart of our democracy.

While online news and information sources are increasingly moving towards a subscription-based model, I hold tight to the hope Baller on a Budget can stay free because somewhere, some other little girl born to immigrant parents and working three jobs might be inspired to dream big too.

The new California privacy law will hurt Sacramento small businesses

As an entrepreneur and longtime small business owner in the Sacramento community, I consider my path to be very fortunate— and perhaps inevitable. It’s safe to say carnations, roses and baby’s breath have adorned our family tree for generations, with my father founding Relles Florist in 1946 and my brother and myself taking over the family business in 1972. That’s 73 years of arranging and delivering flowers to the greater Capital community.

But as I learn more about the recently passed California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), I am concerned that my business could be harmed. I’m in favor of safeguarding people’s personal information, but I rely on the internet to find customers and market my business. The florist business is highly competitive, and family-owned businesses face stiff competition from other retail operations.

As they consider changes to the CCPA, I hope Gov. Newsom and the Legislature will consider how the act will impact smaller businesses that have a limited budget for advertising and a need to use that budget wisely to reach people in our area or outside of where we are located through internet sales, digital marketing and social media.

To understand why the act will hurt me, consider a consumer who’s searching online for a dozen roses for a loved one, or a delicate corsage for a wedding or prom date. The search engine that individual is using provides my advertisement to that individual and if I am fortunate, the consumer visits my store to purchase that floral arrangement.

We have a small website; we keep records of calls; we text customers; we have a “leads” database; we buy digital ads. We do not “collect” data. But under the provisions of the CCPA, we would be considered to be collecting “personal information,” even when it is not linked to an individual.

Even as a small business, my company would suffer from CCPA because it would diminish the value and effectiveness of the online marketing tools I’m using now. And if I hit a certain threshold for sales or customer interactions, then I have a whole set of daunting legal compliance obligations. In response, our company would be required to collect more information about consumers than we need and provide it to the consumer upon request. Relles Florist is not a big tech company. The compliance costs of such an effort, in terms of person-hours and data capture, would be hard to bear.

If my online marketing capabilities are eroded, my potential customers may not see my ads or be directed to my store. Relles Florist is not a large company that can afford television or newspaper advertisements. It’s a high-tech version of the same old story: small businesses will be at a competitive disadvantage in competing with larger players.

The internet has been a great equalizer for small businesses, allowing us to use inexpensive digital advertising, and consumers to shop wisely and access the best prices. But larger, corporate-owned retail chains will always have an advantage in their ability to use other means of advertising and marketing to attract market share. If we cannot depend on digital ads, our efforts to attract new customers will become less nimble, less effective and more expensive.

The CCPA goes into effect in 2020. The California Legislature must act to fix the significant problems and keep the internet available for small business. If they don’t, the California Consumer Privacy Act will betray its good intentions and make it more difficult for people who need that special flower arrangement, decorative plant or precious keepsake to find my store.