The Data Duopoly and How to Stop It

At this point a lot of consumers and — specifically American consumers — are beginning to understand just how big of an impact data has on their lives. Data does a lot of work online, from targeted ads to personalization for consumers. Unfortunately, there are two specific companies that dominate the online data world, data collection and, therefore, digital advertisements. One big question about any privacy laws is whether, instead of balancing the playing field for smaller players, they are simply creating more advantages for these monopolies. The two companies in question? Google and Facebook.

How do these two dominate the data world?

Consumers typically expect information about them to be gathered by an app or website to help enhance the service, remember them as return users, or suggest material. But in recent years, unknown third parties have gathered information behind the scenes about all visiting consumers to create profiles and serve targeted ads on unrelated sites or applications. This lack of transparency has allowed Google and Facebook to run rampant over publishers and consumers strong-arming some companies into giving data, even while the GDPR and CCPA are in effect.

That lack of transparency has led to uncontrolled mass data collection and surveillance that has broken most consumers’ trust with data and online services. So, even when you are not using an app or service that features Facebook or Google’s branding on it, the odds that either of the two or both of those companies are still collecting your data via the app or website you are on through various third-party data collection methods is extremely high.

Enter the CPRA

The California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) is an expansion upon California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and is framed as legislation that will better protect consumer privacy in general. More particularly, sensitive consumer data such as Social Security numbers, race, religion, and health information will be more secure. 

Among other impacts of the proposed legislation, the CPRA will protect young people by enforcing triple fines for infringements against consumers under 16 years of age. It will allow consumers to limit third parties’ use of geolocational data, effectively ending activities such as sending targeted advertising to individuals who have visited a recovery center or a cancer clinic. Plus, it will finance the development of a consumer privacy protection agency.

How will the CPRA impact Google and FB specifically?

The CPRA is designed to regulate the processing and use of data, more specifically by third parties, organizations that you do not expect to access your data when you visit a domain, while encouraging publishers and content creators to continue using content that they produce on their own pages.

Most importantly, the CPRA will attempt to close all sorts of loopholes and technicalities that Facebook and Google have exploited in the CCPA and GDPR. One aspect specifically, Vox refers to as the “switch language.” The specification of the “switch language” explicitly aligns with the commitments of third parties to represent customers’ interests. The CPRA states that, when a customer uses their opt-out rights and a publisher transfers that decision of opting out on to all the companies it deals with (the third parties), those companies must avoid reusing the data of that customer for any other reason than recommended stuff on their own domain.

The “switch language” also removes any wiggle room for Google and Facebook to avoid these new regulations. In the past couple of years, platforms such as Google and Facebook have used their unbalanced negotiation power to force publishers to sign over these data rights, as publishers have witnessed in Europe. So, this “switch language” segment is particularly relevant for independent publishers who do not have the leverage to force Google or Facebook to avoid mining data from their assets.

The CPRA, if enforced diligently and effectively, can actually become the framework for a US national data privacy law. It expands upon where watchdogs and regulators felt the CCPA fell short. While plenty of tech giants will come out and say “this will hurt publishers,” remember that those tech giants are the ones who will actually be suffering because they will be forced to abide by consumers’ interests.