Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook Plans No Changes to Web Tracking Services for Compliance With California Privacy Law

Patience Haggin, Wall Street Journal:

Once the California Consumer Privacy Act takes effect Jan. 1, websites with third-party trackers must add to their home page a button that says “Do Not Sell My Personal Information.” If a consumer clicks that button, the site is barred from transactions that send data to hundreds of third parties.

Those transfers have underpinned the digital-ad market for more than a decade, and are a core component of Facebook’s and Google’s powerful tools for collecting data on consumers and delivering relevant ads to them online.

In advance of the California law taking effect, Google has created a new protocol so sites won’t send data to the company if consumers have opted out. A Google spokeswoman said the protocol was intended to “help them [advertisers] as they work to comply with” the California law.

Facebook, however, has told advertisers that its trackers’ data collection doesn’t constitute “selling” data under the California law and that it therefore doesn’t believe it is required to make changes.

At first glance, this seems consistent with the framing privacy-insensitive companies like Google and Facebook have been using for this debate: they don’t sell personal data; they merely allow advertisers to bid on it. Similarly, a business does not sell Facebook information about who is browsing their website; they only share it.

But the CCPA appears to have been written with this in mind:

“Sell,” “selling,” “sale,” or “sold,” means selling, renting, releasing, disclosing, disseminating, making available, transferring, or otherwise communicating orally, in writing, or by electronic or other means, a consumer’s personal information by the business to another business or a third party for monetary or other valuable consideration.

While businesses generate no immediate financial benefit from using a Facebook pixel, its ad performance and analytics characteristics seem to me to be “valuable consideration”. But, of course, regulators will decide that beginning next year.

This is one of those cases where it seems that the letter of the law ought to have been far clearer to correctly convey its spirit.