Any company, organization, or marketer that does business online knows (or should know) about the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). But with all the talk about the law, it can be hard to understand what it actually is and how it affects businesses. In this article, we’ll take a look at the basics of the CCPA, the penalties for violating the law, and the proposed changes that could affect the law in the future.

What Is the California Consumer Protection Act?

The California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) is a set of regulatory guidelines imposed upon businesses that collect consumers’ personal data established by the California State Government. It is among the strongest and most stringent privacy laws in the United States and has a far-reaching impact in terms of both the businesses to which it applies and the rights it affords consumers.

The CCPA was passed in response to the numerous high-profile data breaches that have occurred in recent years, as well as the growing concern over the use of personal data by businesses for marketing and other purposes. The law is designed to give consumers more control over their personal data, and to hold businesses accountable for the way they collect, use, and protect that data.

The Provisions of The California Consumer Protection Act

The California Consumer Protection Act covers four principal provisions: the right to know, the right to opt-out, the right to delete, and the right to equal service. We’ll briefly explain each below.

1. The Right to Know

Under the CCPA, consumers have the right to know the personal information businesses collect and how they use it. They’re entitled to the direct disclosure of what categories of data this information falls under and are also given the ability to request further, more specific details about its use as needed. This includes inquiries about what personal information a business has sold, what types of third parties it has sold the information to, and where it got that data in the first place.

(Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.100, § 1798.110, § 1798.115)

2. The Right to Opt-Out

The California Consumer Protection Act mandates that businesses must provide individuals with an easy and direct way to opt-out of the sale of their personal information. The most common way this is done is through a “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” link on a website homepage or cookie preference banner with a similar toggle.

It’s also worth noting that businesses must automatically opt-out of the sale of an individual’s data if they have direct reason to believe that the person is under 16 years old. In these cases, it is only their parent’s, guardian’s, or own decision (if between 13 and 16) to consent to anything otherwise.

(Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.120)

3. The Right to Delete

Individuals protected by the California Consumer Protection Act have the right to request the deletion of their personal information from the entities who collect it. Businesses that receive these requests are obliged to fulfill them upon receipt unless the information they have collected is necessary for things like the completion of a related transaction or contract.

(Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.105)

4. The Right to Receive Equal Service

The CCPA is very clear about discrimination and its intolerance for businesses that use it against consumers who exercise their rights. The law directly prohibits businesses and entities from treating individuals unfairly because they’ve requested to know what personal information is being collected about them, or because they’ve opted out of the sale of their information. This also includes refusing service, providing a lower quality of service, or charging different prices or rates for services.

(Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.125)

Defining ‘Personal Information’

The CCPA’s definition of what qualifies as ‘personal information’ is important to fully understand the scope of the law and how it applies.

As directly written, it considers ‘personal information’ to be any “information that identifies, relates to, describes, is capable of being associated with, or could reasonably be linked, directly or indirectly, with a particular consumer or household.” (Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.140(o)(1)).

Examples of what type of data this can cover include:

●         Social Security Numbers

●         Purchase histories

●         Drivers’ license numbers

●         Internet Protocol addresses

The information listed above falls into the personally identifiable information (PII) category. To learn more about PII and how legislation is trying to protect it, view our previous posts: “PIPL: What You Need to Know About Changing Cybersecurity in China”, and “A Guide to the GDPR, Europe’s Stringent Data Protection Law”. Protecting PII is our focus here at TeraDact.

It’s worth noting that while technically meeting the definition, some types of information are not considered to meet the threshold of ‘personal’ and are not subject to CCPA rules. Publicly available information, for example – like someone’s name printed in a newspaper – is not included. Nor is de-identified or aggregate data, which are both defined and further explained in the CCPA itself.

Who Does the California Consumer Protection Act Apply To?

So, who’s subject to all of these rules and provisions? The CCPA was specifically designed to target businesses but can still apply to any organization or person that operates in California and meets at least one of the following criteria.

Annual Revenues Of $25 Million Or Higher

This part is pretty self-explanatory. Businesses making more than $25 million in annual revenue are generally required to comply with the law.

Commercially Buying, Sharing, Receiving, Or Selling the Data of Over 50,000 Consumers Annually

Another clear-cut rule. If your business handles the personal information of more than 50,000 Californian consumers, residents, or households on an annual basis, you’ll have to comply with the law.

It’s important to note that this rule applies even if you don’t share or sell the information you collect – simply having it in your possession puts you over the threshold.

Deriving Over 50 Percent of Annual Revenues from The Sale of Personal Information

This is another fairly straightforward rule, but one that’s worth unpacking a bit. The ‘sale’ of personal information under the CCPA can be broadly defined as anything that would enable access to the data – including exchanging, renting, releasing, disclosing, or otherwise making it available.

So, if more than 50 percent of your business’s annual revenue comes from activities like this, you’ll be required to comply with the law.

What Are the Penalties for Non-Compliance with The California Consumer Protection Act?

Violations of the California Consumer Protection act don’t go unpunished; the law outlines several penalties for non-compliance with its regulations. And because it applies to businesses, service providers, and individuals, there’s a range of potential punishments that could be levied.

Civil Penalties

The most common penalties for violating the CCPA are civil penalties. Civil penalties are a type of financial remedy government entities impose for wrongdoing. In the case of the CCPA, civil penalties are assessed and enforced by the state attorney general’s office, which has the authority to investigate potential violations and file lawsuits on behalf of Californian consumers.

The California Attorney-General can pursue penalties from organizations that violate any part of the California Consumer Protection Act.

Just some examples of what these violations can look like include:

●         Failing to respond to consumers’ requests for the deletion of their personal information

●         Failing to have or uphold CCPA-compliant privacy policies

●         Selling consumers’ personal data without offering them a means to opt-out

●         Discriminating against individuals who exercise their rights under the CCPA

●         Failing to give adequate notice of the collection of personal information

Service providers who retain, use, or disclose personal data for purposes outside of their contracts with businesses may also be liable for penalty under the CCPA.

People can dispose themselves to penalty as well, by unlawfully breaching rules on the onward transfer of personal data.

The costs of violating the CCPA are severe, with maximum fines of up to $2,500 per violation or $7,500 per intentional violation. And because the law applies to each consumer whose data is mishandled, a single incident could result in multiple penalties.

Waiting Period

It’s important to note that businesses that violate the California Consumer Protection Act have a waiting period before they can be fined. The law stipulates that businesses have 30 days’ notice to correct any violations before they can be subject to penalties.

If the business can cure the noticed violation(s) and provide an express written statement indicating so and that no further violations shall occur, then no action may be brought.

Enforcement by The California Attorney-General

The CCPA gives the state attorney general’s office broad enforcement powers, including the authority to investigate potential violations and file lawsuits on behalf of Californian consumers.

In addition to seeking civil penalties, the attorney general can also seek injunctions or temporary restraining orders to stop businesses from violating the law.

Private Right of Action

In addition to the civil penalty route, the CCPA also gives consumers the right to take legal action on their own behalf in the case of a violation. Private action is a term that refers to the ability of an individual to bring a lawsuit against another party without the involvement of the government.

The CCPA gives Californian consumers the right to sue businesses, service providers, or any person acting on behalf of a business or service provider for data breaches that result from the unauthorized access, theft, or disclosure of their personal information.

Consumers can sue for damages even if they haven’t suffered any financial loss because of the breach, and they can also seek punitive damages if the court finds that the business or service provider acted recklessly or intentionally violated the law.

The financial repercussions of these cases are somewhat less severe, with a range of $100 to $750 that can be sought per consumer per incident. Actual damages may also be awarded, but only if the consumer can prove that they’ve suffered a financial loss because of the breach.

(Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.150)

Unlike civil penalties, private action lawsuits do not require consumers to provide notice to businesses of their intention to sue.

Proposed Amendments to the CCPA

Like any major piece of legislation, the California Consumer Protection Act is poised to change with time. This is especially true given the law’s subject matter; because technology is always changing, the ways in which personal data is collected and used will likely continue to evolve.

Considering this, lawmakers have already proposed several amendments to the CCPA. These amendments range from technical corrections to substantive changes that would modify the scope or enforcement of the law.

Some potential prominent amendments to come include:

A Shift Away from Dark Patterns

Dark Patterns are a type of user interface design meant to trick people into doing things they might not want to do, such as signing up for a service they don’t need or providing personal information they might not want to share.

One recently proposed amendment to the CCPA would make it illegal for businesses to use dark patterns when collecting personal information from consumers. This would help to ensure that consumers are only providing their personal data willingly and with full knowledge of how it will be used.

The Right to Correct Personal Information

Newly proposed amendments suggest adding a ‘right to correct’ inaccurate personal information to the CCPA. This new section would give consumers the right to correct any inaccurate personal data businesses collect, as well as outline documentation requirements, methods for correction, disclosure requirements for denial, and alternative solutions.

While relatively new to the CCPA, this concept has been around for some time on an international level and is already familiar to many businesses that are subject to the GDPR. For local, California businesses though, this proposed amendment would simply be another obligation to add to their CCPA compliance checklist.

Privacy Policy Requirements

In addition to the information already required to be disclosed in a privacy policy under the CCPA, proposed amendments would add several new specific elements that businesses would need to include.

These are:

●         The date the privacy policy was last updated

●         The length of time the business plans to retain each category of personal information, or if that’s not possible the criteria it uses to determine how long it will be retained

●         Disclosure of whether the business allows third parties to control their collection of personal data, and if so, the names and business practices of these parties

●         A description of consumers’ new rights as described in the amendment

●         Clear directions for how consumers can exercise their newly amended rights

●         A description of how the business will process opt-out requests

Organizations that process the personal data of 10 million consumers or more will also be required to include a link to certain reporting requirements in their privacy policy under this new amendment.

The CCPA’s reach and impression on business is significant, there’s no doubt about that. The law gives Californian consumers a number of rights with respect to their personal data, and businesses that mishandle that data can be subject to some severe penalties. By educating yourself on the law and taking steps to ensure that your business complies, you can help avoid any potential problems down the road.