California, that innovative economic juggernaut that so often takes the regulatory lead on matters such as automobile emissions, is once again establishing the ground rules to a vital industry. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in June, is the improbable result of a wealthy real estate investor, with the colorful name of Alastair Mactaggart, and a gang of volunteers taking an interest in consumer privacy. Mactaggart used California’s zany ballot initiative system (and his personal fortune) to get a version of a proposed privacy law onto the November ballot. Faced with the horrifying prospect of a well-funded privacy evangelist jamming regulation down the throats of the state’s golden-goose tech companies, legislators quickly devised their own alternative. This rollicking policy adventure is recounted at length in a cover story by Nicholas Confessore for The New York Times Magazine.
Look through the rah-rah triumphalism of the piece, however and you’ll see that far from succumbing to some irresistible activist push, incumbents Google and Facebook craftily shaped the legislation to suit themselves. When in the history of American democracy have state legislators voted to severely and onerously regulate trillion-dollar companies in their home districts, motivated only by an overweening concern for consumer rights (and not donor pressure)? Never, is the answer—which is why the implications of CCPA could use some further scrutiny. (Spoiler alert: Facebook doesn’t hate the law).