California has the strongest internet privacy act in the country that lets you see exactly what information a company has stored about you. It started being enforced on July 1, but companies had already been working to comply with the law since it went into effect at the start of 2020.
"The goal is to let you control your privacy," said California's Attorney General Xavier Becerra. "Now, people have rights that can be enforced. You have rights to your personal information."
Essentially, the law requires a company to tell you exactly what information it is collecting on you, what it is doing with that information, and sometimes you can even tell the company to delete it.
"It is the strongest privacy law in the United States, bar none," said James Lee with the Identity Theft Resource Center. "It gives California residents rights that no one else in the country has."
How do you tell what information a company is storing on you? When you go to their website, that data company is required to have a button on their homepage website that says, "Do Not Sell My Personal Information."
"The first thing we should do whenever we get on any website is look for that button or link," said Becerra. "If you don't mind them selling your personal information, that's fine, but you have a right to stop them."
Becerra says personal data is worth a lot of money. They may have your name, address, email, birthdate, and even other information about you.
"If they're selling that information for marketing purposes, you can ask them to stop," said Lee. "And in certain circumstances, you can even ask them to delete that information."
Many people do not read the privacy policies on websites, but Becerra says this is something everyone needs to get in the habit of doing.
"Here's where you've got to take the time to do it right," said Becerra. "We hope the businesses will do it the right way too and not try to make it difficult."
The law also lets the Attorney General act on complaints from Californians, punish companies for data breaches, and require that they quickly tell users when they have had a data breach. There is also a big part of the law that focuses on underage children.
"This law finally gives us strong protections for minors," said Becerra. "We want to make sure our children 5 to 10 years old aren't unknowingly disclosing all sorts of very personal information about them and us."
The law also protects consumers who tell companies to delete or stop selling their personal information.
"You have a right to say 'I don't want that anymore,'" said Becerra. "That company cannot treat you differently than someone it continues to collect information from."
While there has been some pushback to the law, Becerra says many companies have been than willing to comply.
"It's a lucrative business, so it shouldn't be surprising that some companies aren't too happy that suddenly we are in the driver's seat about how they use our personal data," said Becerra. "Get in the front seat and take the wheel. You decide what happens with your personal information."
A measure that just qualified for the November ballot would create new protections for consumers and requirements for companies. Becerra said his office is in charge of writing a description of the measure to go on the ballot, so he could not say if he was for or against it.
Now that California's law is being enforced, Lee says other states may follow suit and pass similar laws to protect the data of their residents.