The primary purpose of Californians for Consumer Privacy, an advocacy group formed by San Francisco real estate developer Alastair Mactaggart, is to push for a ballot initiative adding restrictions on companies that profit from the collection of personal data. Last week, it gave state officials a petition with over 600,000 signatures, which should be enough to get it in front of voters in November.
Its website, CAPrivacy.org, is pretty much what you’d expect. There are creepy fictional videos portraying people’s birth date, physical location, and potentially embarrassing info about their online purchases (hair loss prevention shampoo) and the apps they use (online poker). Below the videos, there’s a motivating message: “It’s your personal information. Take back control!”
There is one surprising aspect, though. Each time someone visits, software gleans what information it can about her, then sends that information to Facebook, including her IP address, what web pages she was on before and after visiting, and so on. At this point, both the visitor and the website have basically lost control of what happens with that information.
There’s nothing particularly unusual going on here. At least 79 percent of websites globally have one or more trackers that collect data on their users’ online behavior, according to a 2017 study by Ghostery, a company that makes ad blockers and privacy software. Over 21 percent have more than 10 trackers. Google trackers run 60 percent of the time any web page loads; Facebook’s run 27 percent of the time. Both companies have trackers running on CAPrivacy.org, because the group put them there. It may be hard to find a clearer testament to how entrenched such tracking has become as the default setting of the entire internet.