Gov. Brown Says “It’s Time to Update Your Privacy Statement”

Online privacy is consistently a hot topic in the media and among consumer advocates. In a recent survey, 80% of consumers are aware that they are being tracked whenever they go online and just over half disapprove (some strongly so). Unfortunately, current regulations, which include a requirement that websites maintain and post a privacy policy, don’t address some of the newest marketing innovations (or the browser-based consumer protections that have cropped up as a defense). This leaves many consumers unsure of exactly what information is being collected or how it may be used.

Many states have responded by strengthening legal protections for consumers; California among them. Just last month Governor Brown signed into law a slew of new privacy oriented laws that dramatically alter the state’s legal landscape. The new regulations, some of which go into effect as early as January 1, 2014, have sent website owners, lawyers, and content developers scrambling to figure out exactly what the new laws mean; and how to comply with them.

While Ottenhoff Consulting cannot offer legal advice on your company’s privacy policy, we do have experience writing plain language privacy policies that consumers can actually understand. Here is an overview of the changes California commercial websites face in the coming months.

Do Not Track Me (or at least admit you are…)

Over the last couple of years, many of the major internet browsers have added a “do not track” feature which signals to websites that a particular would prefer to remain anonymous. Ostensibly, this signal should cut off any tracking efforts. In real life, however, this is rarely the case. For many browsers, the signal is set to OFF by default; but even for those users who figure out how to enable the feature, little to no actual good comes from the effort. The problem is two-fold. First, many sites simply ignore the request and track the viewer regardless of the DNT signal from the browser. Second, even when a site respects such user requests, that site may still be able to piggy-back on the cookies or other tracking technologies implemented by a site that does not respect the DNT signal. Between these two workarounds (and countless other issues), DNT signals have had only minimal impact on consumer privacy protection.

To address some of these shortcomings, the California legislature amended its 2004 online privacy act to require commercial websites that collect personally identifiable information from California consumers (which probably means just about any non-personal website that might be accessed by a California consumer) to provide consumers with a clear explanation of exactly how the site deals with DNT signals and what, if any, third party tracking may be going on behind the scenes of the site in question.

Of note, the law does not require sites to respect DNT signals or forbid sites from tracking viewers. The law simply mandates a full disclosure of any such practices.

Hey Kid! What’s your name?

Social media thrives on teen usage, as does a substantial amount of online marketing from beauty products, to gaming, to snack food. Young children are accessing the web in growing numbers for school, gaming, and educational purposes. Sometimes those users post material that they (or their parents) might later regret. To help protect youths from their own indiscretions or mistakes, websites that serve California minors must, as of January 1, 2015, provide those minors with a clear procedure for removing any material posted by that minor. While implementation of the law is a year away, it’s probably a good idea to do this anyway so waiting to the last minute makes little sense.

Questions and More Information

If you have questions about how the new rules might impact your website, or if you would like more information about updating your own privacy policy, a review of your site’s current practices is a great place to start. In the meantime, read through the great legal information provided over at JD Supra.


Kjeld Lindsted Kjeld Lindsted
Content Architecture, Copywriting, and Editing
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