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I first became interested in privacy about four years ago, when I asked an engineer working for Google whether we should really be worried about privacy—wasn’t it just a bunch of hype, I asked?
His reply was chilling: “If people just understood how much we knew about them, they’d be really worried.”
A bit later, my friend Rick Arney and I were bemoaning the state of politics. Our children are friends here in the Bay Area, and we were talking about the world they’d grow up into, and the impossibility, it seems, of getting good national legislation passed in these difficult times. He was extolling the power of California’s ballot initiatives, and their ability to cut through politics. We realized a ballot initiative could be the solution to enhance California consumers’ privacy.
“If people just understood how much we knew about them, they’d be really worried.”
A few months later in early 2016, Mary Ross joined the effort as our first (and only!) full-time employee, after she relocated to the Bay Area with her husband and three small children. Mary is an attorney with a background in national security. She used to work for the Federal government and on Capitol Hill in DC.
We researched existing laws, past legislative efforts to safeguard privacy, and listened carefully to the concerns of privacy advocates, legal experts and technologists.
Based on these conversations, we concluded an initiative would be the perfect solution to address a world where a small number of mega-corporations have access to almost all of your most personal information. Whether it’s the terms you’re searching for online, where you eat lunch every day, your Facebook likes, what prescription medicines you’re picking up at the pharmacy, or how far and where you walked today, some of the largest companies on the planet know more about you than literally anyone else, and use this information to manipulate and sometimes discriminate against you.
In the final analysis, it seems to us that since we already pay our cell phone and cable bills, our auto leases and music subscription services, shouldn’t we be able to tell those companies that they can’t also sell the personal information they obtain from us as users and customers? And for ‘free’ services—well, as the saying goes, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. In our focus groups, we found that voters understood and accepted this idea. They were ok seeing ads—they just didn’t want the ad to know which running route they followed every Monday evening, or whether they were trying to get pregnant.
In the fall of 2017 we submitted our initiative, and received the official Title & Summary in December.
We are currently gathering signatures to enable the measure to qualify for the ballot.
In terms of financial support: I funded the cost of research and drafting the initiative, which includes the legal work, Mary’s salary, our polling, and all the consultants we’ve hired at various points to help us submit the measure to the Attorney General. I have also funded the signature gathering thus far, though since we have launched our website we have begun to receive donations (thank you!).
I have taken no money from anyone to help support this effort. I don’t work in technology, and this is in no way a business venture for me. I am a real estate developer, and I am certainly not doing this for any financial gain. But while this venture is a bit daunting (taking on the largest corporations on the planet, I mean), we are convinced Californians will support this initiative in November.
Facebook, Google, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have contributed over $1M to a PAC set up to oppose us, and we have heard that there is a $100 million campaign lined up against this measure. While I have been very fortunate in life, I am not a billionaire, and can’t possibly compete financially with the wealthiest corporations in the history of the world, Google and Facebook, by spending $100 million.
Luckily, we don’t think we need to spend $100 million, since this issue resonates so strongly with Californians, and polls so well. But we do need to raise as much as we can, to get our message out in this great state. So, if you could see your way to donating to our cause, we would be really, really grateful.
At the end of the day, we believe wholeheartedly in California: it’s still, to us, the land of opportunity and innovation, and the land where American culture originates, a culture that depends on freedom and independence.
That freedom and independence seems under siege now, to us, in a world where one corporation can share highly personal information about tens of millions of users, thus possibly swaying an election. We think everyone should get a choice about how their personal data is being used, and that to a certain extent, democracy depends on that choice. We think everyone deserves to have their personal information protected, so that the bane of identity theft is minimized.
We know if we can get this done in California, it will sweep the nation—and we know that’s why Big Tech is willing to spend almost anything to defeat it.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for visiting. We humbly ask for your support and to vote YES on the California Consumer Privacy Act in November.
Alastair Mactaggart has been building housing in the Bay Area for over 20 years. He started this initiative because he believes that all Californians, and people worldwide, should have the fundamental right of data privacy and be able to control their OWN personal information. He is not a technologist, but as the saying goes: you don’t have to be a carpenter to know the table wobbles. He believes that it's not right that companies you’ve never heard of, can buy more information about you (and sell it for a profit), than even your closest friends know. And that you have no control over the process. As a father to three young children, he advocates for the online privacy of children and believes that parents should have a choice about how their family's data is sold.
Alastair is married and lives in the Bay Area.
Mary is a lawyer and expert in national security. She began her career at Los Alamos National Laboratory where she used big data to protect U.S. critical infrastructures including our ports, transportation systems, and electrical grids. Mary also served as a counterintelligence analyst at the CIA and as counsel on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. House of Representatives (HPSCI) under Chairman Silvestre Reyes. At HPSCI, part of her responsibilities was oversight over the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. Mary is a mom of three and has worked on this initiative for over two years. She is passionate about the need for more oversight, transparency, and accountability over the collection and dissemination of personal information, and the need to operationalize Californians’ constitutional right to privacy.
Rick has worked in the financial industry for over two decades, but some of his fondest work memories come from his time working in the California State Legislature after business school, where he was responsible for analyzing the financial impact of proposed laws. He is the father of three young children, and lives in Piedmont, California. He believes in a future where consumers have meaningful control over their privacy, identity theft is minimized and children's profiles and preferences are protected