California's far-reaching privacy act, known as CCPA, goes into effect January 1 and brings with it sweeping changes to how businesses can collect and use the personal information of residents in that state. Of course, in reality, those changes will affect everyone since it isn't practical for a company to treat users in one state differently than another, especially with so much at stake.

The law requires companies to tell users what information they collect, how it is used, and when it's sold. It also requires that users be given the ability to opt-out of all data collection, review previously collected information, and delete their personal information. And it applies to pretty much every company, but especially tech companies that track what we do online.

Except for Facebook. Or, at least that's the position the company has taken with regard to the changes required by the law. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company believes that "its trackers' data collection doesn't constitute 'selling' data under the California law and that it therefore doesn't believe it is required to make changes."

The key argument Facebook is making is that its regular business activity of creating a profile about you, tracking what you do online, and then allowing advertisers to target you with ads based on that information, doesn't constitute a sale of your personal information. It also says that it already allows people to "easily manage their privacy and understand their choices with respect to their data."

Hang on, really? 

Sure, Facebook has made some changes to its settings which technically allow you some level of control over your information. But here's a quick question: Do you know how to turn off third-party ads? How about managing whether or not Facebook can share your information with outside developers? Do you know how to set ad preferences? How about which apps have access to your profile?

I'm guessing you have no idea where to start, and the reality is that the answer for each of those requires a different set of steps that involves multiple clicks through support menus and preference settings. Confused? That's the entire point. Most people give up pretty quickly when it comes to changing settings, which means for Facebook, it's business as usual.

Interestingly, Facebook was one of the reasons the CCPA exists in the first place. Back in October, I wrote how Salesforce's co-CEO Marc Benioff said that "Facebook is the new cigarettes. It should be regulated." Benioff isn't the only one who shared the sentiment, which is reflected by the heightened scrutiny the company has faced over the last year. It was only a few months ago that Facebook entered into a record $5 billion settlement over violations of user privacy.

I can't imagine a serious observer who doesn't think that CCPA was meant to apply to Facebook. I guess maybe Mark Zuckerberg, but he's also the same person that claims that Facebook's highest value is free expression even while championing an algorithm that decides which expression is amplified and which you'll never see.

He's also the same person who leads a company that has been vague about exactly what information it collects and is notoriously lax about protecting both your privacy and your personal data. And the company that makes extraordinary amounts of profit by monetizing your data.

Whether it technically sells your information in the precise legal sense I guess could be subject to some level of semantic interpretation. However, I don't think anyone but Facebook would argue with a straight face that the company isn't literally in the business of monetizing your information by making it available to the highest bidder. 

Of course, when you build a social network with over 2.5 billion users and become one of the richest people in the world by making up your own rules, it's easy to see why you might think a pesky new privacy law doesn't apply to you. I suspect the state of California and its residents might disagree. 

Published on: Dec 18, 2019
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