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Privacy Laws Can Create Opportunities, Limitations, California Lawmakers Advised

Publication Date: 
December 16, 2013
Privacy & Security Law Report - BNA
Joyce E. Cutler

CIS Director of Privacy Aleecia McDonald discusses the user burden associated with asking users to read the privacy policies of every website they visit in this Privacy & Security Law Report - BNA by Joyce E. Cutler. 

California's privacy laws have created opportunities for industries to flourish while consumer and company confusion can subvert the intention of the laws, privacy practitioners told California lawmakers Dec. 12.

During a California legislative informational hearing at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., law professors and privacy attorneys said the state can improve privacy by requiring warrants for electronic communications and cleaning up old statutes that impede compliance and consumer protection.


Aleecia McDonald, director of privacy at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, said the notice and choice concept failed. McDonald said her research showed 98 of the top 100 websites tracked consumers, “so there's not much choice there unless unplugging your computer.”

“And there's also a tremendous user burden in asking users to read the privacy policies of every site they visit,” McDonald said. A separate study she conducted found it would take as much time to read privacy policies as to spend time on websites.

“This is just not a supportable or realistic model to put on users,” she said. The iTunes privacy policy from Apple Inc. is 56 pages on an iPhone screen, McDonald said.

“But let me point out that right now we are putting the cost of this Wild West of privacy on citizens while most of the benefits are accruing to companies,” McDonald said. More than two thirds of Americans “think their privacy is protected by laws that don't exist,” she said.