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Online Privacy Bill Halted As Silicon Valley Lobbying Doubles

by Jane Susskind, published

Silicon Valley Lobbying

The fight for online privacy rights in California took a major blow this month as AB 1291, or the "Right to Know Act of 2013," became a two-year bill, essentially halting all action until January 2014. Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal's Right to Know Act would have made California the first state to allow users access to the information companies store about them.

“Californians don’t need to be persuaded that they should be able to ask a business what it knows about them and who it’s sharing that information with. But in the legislature, it has become clear that we still have our work cut out for us,” said Lowenthal in a recent press release.

In fact, 82 percent of California voters side with Lowenthal because they are concerned about information that is currently being stored by corporations, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll finds.

Given California's influential role in the advancement of online privacy rights nationwide, the Right to Know Act is a seemingly good fit for the state. It would change existing law to require companies that retain personal information to disclose this information at no extra charge to the individual within a 30-day time period.

Standing in the way of the bill's passage, however, was a group of 15 plus trade groups and companies invested in the collection of data. The California Chamber of Commerce, American Insurance Association, California Bankers Association, NetChocice, TechNet, and TechAmerica were all involved in the drafting of a letter addressed to Lowenthal.

Lowenthal was contacted for her remarks on the letter, but has not responded.

If the name TechAmerica doesn't ring a bell, Google and Facebook should -- two of the largest data-collectors in the world. Both companies are represented by TechAmerica.

Living in California, it's hard to ignore the influence of Silicon Valley, for better or for worse. In the last 6 years, Silicon Valley companies have more than doubled the amount spent on lobbying -- now playing a powerful role in shaping policy -- with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg leading the way.

Pouring millions into a series of advertisements run by his advocacy group,, Zuckerberg has entered the political game, with some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley on his team.

His intention for supporting immigration reform, more specifically the expansion of the H-1B, is no secret as the livelihood of his company rests on the foreign talent of tech savvy immigrants.

Zuckerberg's campaign, however, extends far beyond the borders of immigration reform. also released ads praising lawmakers who support the Keystone XL pipeline project and opposing Obama's Affordable Care Act.

While there will always be a negative stigma associated with lobbyists, it seems the distaste towards lobbyists does not extend to the tech giants responsible for the beloved iPhones or the most powerful search engine in the world.

"It's not just that Silicon Valley has a lot of money and a lot of lobbyists, but they wear a halo too," Schnur said. "Most voters tend to think of technology companies in an entirely different context than most other businesses."

They are revolutionizing the ways in which we interact with each other, society, and technology. Whether intentional or not, Silicon Valley lobbying is now a key player in molding California policy.

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