Following Capitol Hearings, Facebook Drops Opposition to California Privacy Legislation

Facebook has decided to withdraw its opposition to a California ballot measure that is seeking to strengthen privacy protections for residents of the state, the company confirmed Wednesday. This commitment comes after two days of intense hearings over Facebook’s privacy practices on Capitol Hill.

If approved, the ballot measure would enact a new law called the  California Consumer Privacy Act, which aims to enforce more transparency over data stored by companies, and give consumers a way to opt out of companies selling their data. The measure, which is sponsored by local real estate developer Alastair Mactaggart, is on the November ballot in California.

It is being opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce.  A campaign against the bill has gotten financial support from Facebook, Google, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, with Facebook donating an initial $200,000. But on Wednesday afternoon, Facebook said that it was no longer going to back the opposition to the ballot measure.

“We took this step in order to focus our efforts on supporting reasonable privacy measures in California,” a company spokesperson told Variety. The move was first reported by San Francisco’s KPIX.

The supporters of the measure cheered the decision. “We’re gratified that Facebook has dropped its opposition to the California Consumer Privacy Act,” said Mactaggart. “We call on the remaining corporations who have contributed to the Super PAC opposing this common-sense measure to drop their opposition.”

The Committee to Protect California Jobs, the Chamber of Commerce-backed political action committee opposing the measure, said that it would continue with what it called “an aggressive campaign.” The proposed bill “is unworkable and requires the internet in California to operate differently – limiting our choices, hurting our businesses, and cutting our connection to the global economy,” the group said in a statement.

It also shared an email of Facebook’s head of state and local public policy Ann Blackwood that called the initiative flawed, while at the same time expressing support for a legislative solution for more privacy protections. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the email, but declined to comment further.

Mactaggart had told Variety in a previous interview that companies were hypocritical if they were publicly promising to strengthen privacy protections while quietly spending money to oppose bills like his. “There is a tidal wave coming, and they are just defending business as usual,” he said.

On Tuesday, Senators grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for 5 hours about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and related issues. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg received a similar treatment from House lawmakers during a second 5-hour hearing. During those appearances, Zuckerberg stopped short of supporting any specific legislation meant to strengthen privacy, repeatedly telling lawmakers that “details matter.”

Update: 7:38pm: This post was updated with a statement from the group opposing the ballot measure.

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