Use of Personal Information: Is Knowledge Really Power?


In 2003 a law referred to as “Shine the Light” was passed in California. One part of the law requires many businesses to respond to requests from customers about whether their private information was sold for marketing purposes, and who it was sold to. It also requires that the businesses disclose their practices surrounding use of personal information to customers. See a copy of the legislation here:

I initially stumbled upon this because I saw it referenced in the privacy section of a website I frequent, and I asked myself if I would request this information if I were a California resident. The answer, for me, would be no. Not only does it take time and effort to request the information in the first place, but I’m not sure what the benefit would be of knowing. And if I wouldn’t go through the effort after spending all semester learning about how our information is used for all kinds of purposes, who would? Would you?

This law makes me wonder about whether legislation like this really benefits consumers. One advantage I can see is that it allows consumers to monitor how businesses are using their information, and seek to hold the businesses accountable if their information is being used illegally or inappropriately. Does this allow consumers to, in a sense, perform a public service by “policing” the use of personal information for monetary gain? Given what we have learned about contract law not doing much to protect personal information after a person has clicked “I agree”, perhaps creating laws that give consumers tools to protect their own personal information is the next best thing. Customers can fight what they perceive to be misuse of their personal information by choosing which companies they disclose this information to and, more importantly, using word of mouth and the media to generate negative publicity about businesses that use this information in a way they feel is inappropriate.

California recently enacted several other pieces of privacy legislation–a summary of which can be found here: