January 17, 2024

Understanding CalOPPA: The California Online Privacy Protection Act Explained

Explore the evolution from CalOPPA to CCPA, comparing data privacy laws in California and beyond. Discover strengths, limitations, and its influence on global frameworks.

What is CalOPPA?

The California Online Privacy Protection Act (CalOPPA) is a California law that was enacted in 2004. It requires all commercial websites and online services that collect personal information from California residents to have a clear and conspicuous privacy policy. The policy must disclose certain information, such as:

  • The types of personal information collected
  • How the information is used and shared
  • The choices consumers have about their information
  • How consumers can contact the company with questions or concerns

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Who does CalOPPA apply to?

The reach of CalOPPA is surprisingly broad, extending beyond just businesses physically located in California. Here's a breakdown of who needs to comply:

Online Businesses Targeting California Residents

  • If your website or online service collects any "personally identifiable information" (PII) from California residents,regardless of your location, CalOPPA applies.
  • This includes entities like SaaS apps, mobile apps, and even Facebook apps.
  • "Personally identifiable information" is broadly defined and includes elements like first and last names,addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Businesses Located in California

  • Any business physically located in California, regardless of whether it collects PII from Californians, needs to comply with CalOPPA. This includes both online and offline businesses.

Businesses Outside of California, but Servicing California Residents

  • Even if your website or online service is hosted outside California, you still need to comply with CalOPPA if you intentionally target California residents.
  • This could include things like advertising to California residents or offering services specifically tailored to them.

Personal information under CalOPPA

CalOPPA focuses on personally identifiable information (PII), essentially any information that can directly or indirectly identify a specific California resident. 

Explicit examples listed in the Act

  • First and last name
  • Home or physical address
  • Email address
  • Telephone number
  • Social Security number

Additional personal data typically considered PII under CalOPPA

  • IP address
  • Geolocation data
  • Cookie identifiers
  • Browsing history and search queries
  • Online purchase history
  • Demographic information like age, gender, and ethnicity
  • Biometric data like fingerprints or facial recognition scans

Even information not explicitly listed can be considered PII if it can be combined with other data to identify an individual.

However, CalOPPA doesn't cover:

  • Publicly available information like phone directories or government records
  • De-identified or anonymized data that cannot be linked to a specific individual
  • Information collected offline unless processed in conjunction with online PII

Beyond just the type of information, CalOPPA also covers:

  • How this information is collected: This includes methods like cookies, forms, and tracking technologies.
  • How this information is used: This includes sharing with third parties, profiling, and marketing purposes.
  • Privacy policy requirements: Websites and online services must have a clear and conspicuous privacy policy explaining how PII is collected, used, and shared.
  • Consumer rights: CalOPPA grants California residents some basic rights regarding their PII, such as accessing,correcting, and requesting deletion.

While not as comprehensive as newer laws like the CCPA, CalOPPA still establishes crucial protections for PII and sets a baseline for responsible data practices in California.

What rights does CalOPPA give me?

While CalOPPA isn't as far-reaching as newer regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), it still equips California residents with some essential rights regarding their personal information collected online. Here's a summary of what you can do under CalOPPA:

  1. Access Your Data: You have the right to request a copy of the personally identifiable information (PII) that a website or online service collects about you. This includes details like your name, address, email, and browsing history.
  2. Review and Correct Your Data: If you find any inaccuracies in the information collected about you, you have the right to request corrections. Businesses must respond to your request within 30 days and make reasonable efforts to rectify any errors.
  3. Opt-Out of Information Sharing: CalOPPA grants you the right to prevent websites and online services from sharing your PII with third parties for marketing purposes. You can typically exercise this right through a checkbox or link on the website's privacy policy.
  4. Review the Privacy Policy: CalOPPA requires businesses to have a clear and conspicuous privacy policy outlining how they collect, use, and share PII. You have the right to review this policy and understand how your data is handled.
  5. File a Complaint: If you believe a website or online service is violating CalOPPA, you can file a complaint with the California Attorney General's Office. They will investigate your complaint and potentially take legal action against the offending business.

Important Caveats:

  • CalOPPA's rights are limited compared to the CCPA and the CPRA. For example, you don't have the right to request deletion of your data under CalOPPA.
  • The law primarily focuses on PII collected through websites and online services. It doesn't offer significant protections for data collected offline.
  • Enforcement mechanisms for CalOPPA are less stringent than newer laws.

Despite its limitations, CalOPPA plays a crucial role in empowering California residents to take control of their online privacy. It establishes foundational rights and sets a precedent for stronger data protection measures.

How to comply with CalOPPA

CalOPPA imposes several key requirements on websites and online services that collect data from California residents. Here's a rundown of the main obligations:

  1. Conspicuous Privacy Policy: Every website and online service must have a clear and accessible privacy policy explaining how they collect, use, and share personal information (PII). This policy should be easily found on every page and written in plain, understandable language.
  2. Transparency in Data Practices: The privacy policy should detail the types of PII collected, the purposes for collecting it, and the third parties it might be shared with. Users should be informed about their choices regarding data sharing and how to exercise them.
  3. Opt-Out Mechanisms: CalOPPA requires websites and online services to offer an easy way for California residents to opt-out of having their PII shared with third parties for marketing purposes. This could be through a checkbox on the website, a link in the privacy policy, or another readily available method.
  4. Responding to Access and Correction Requests: California residents have the right to request copies of their PII collected by websites and online services. Additionally, they can request corrections to any inaccurate or outdated information. Businesses must respond promptly and honestly to these requests.
  5. Do Not Track (DNT) Signals: While CalOPPA doesn't mandate honoring DNT signals sent by web browsers, it still requires websites and online services to disclose in their privacy policy whether they comply with these requests or not. Users should be informed about how their tracking preferences are handled.
  6. Compliance Measures: Businesses must implement reasonable security measures to protect PII from unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, or destruction. This includes data encryption, access controls, and regular security assessments.
  7. Recordkeeping and Reporting: Companies collecting PII under CalOPPA must maintain records of their data collection practices for a specific period. Additionally, they may be required to report data breaches or other privacy incidents to the California Attorney General's Office.

What is a CalOPPA compliant privacy policy?

Here are the key elements of a CalOPPA-compliant privacy policy:

  • Conspicuous and accessible: The policy must be easily accessible from any page on the website or app, often placed in the footer or a dedicated "Privacy" section.
  • Transparency about data collection: It must clearly explain what personal information is collected from users, such as names, addresses, email addresses, and browsing habits. This includes information collected directly from users as well as automatically through cookies or other tracking technologies.
  • Disclosure of third-party data sharing: If the business shares collected information with third parties, the policy must explain who these third parties are and why their information is shared.
  • User access and control: Users must have the right to access and review their personal information, as well as to request corrections or deletions. The policy should explain how users can make such requests.
  • Changes to the policy: The policy should notify users of any changes made to it, and ideally provide an effective date.
  • Do Not Track signals: The policy should explain how the business responds to Do Not Track (DNT) signals sent by users' browsers. While compliance with DNT is not mandatory, CalOPPA requires transparency about its handling.

Additional considerations: Depending on the nature of the website or app, some additional elements may be necessary for full CalOPPA compliance. For example, websites targeting children may need to have specific provisions for parental consent.

To start your California compliant privacy policy, here is our free Privacy Policy Template for CCPA, CPRA, and COPPA. 

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How do I enforce my rights under CalOPPA?

Enforcing your rights under CalOPPA requires proactive steps and some understanding of the law's limitations. Here are some things you can do:

  1. Familiarize yourself with your rights: Review the details of CalOPPA, particularly the rights it grants you over your data, such as requesting access, correction, or opting out of data sharing. This will help you navigate your options effectively.
  2. Access your data: Every website or online service covered by CalOPPA must provide a mechanism for you to request a copy of the personal information they hold about you. Look for the specific instructions on their website or contact their customer support.
  3. Request correction: If you find any inaccuracies in the information about you, use the same channels (website or customer support) to request corrections. Be specific about the errors and provide any supporting evidence if available.
  4. Opt-out of data sharing: Most websites will have settings or an opt-out option within their privacy policy or account settings. Look for options regarding third-party sharing or marketing preferences and exercise your right to opt-out.
  5. Review the privacy policy: The privacy policy should outline how you can exercise your rights under CalOPPA. Thoroughly understand the options and procedures it presents.
  6. Contact the business directly: If you encounter any difficulties exercising your rights or feel the business isn't adequately responding, contact them directly via email, phone, or their designated contact form. Express your concerns and request clarifications or assistance.
  7. File a complaint with the Office of the California Attorney General: If the business fails to comply with your requests or violates CalOPPA in any way, you can file a formal complaint with the California Attorney General's Office. They investigate such complaints and take legal action if necessary.

How does CalOPPA differ from the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)?

Both CalOPPA and the CCPA aim to protect California residents' online privacy, but they differ in significant ways:

CalOPPACCPA
ScopeApplies to all websites and online services that collect personal information from California residents, regardless of the business's location.Applies to for-profit businesses that meet certain thresholds: gross annual revenue exceeding $25 million, selling the personal information of 50,000 or more residents annually, or deriving 50% or more of annual revenue from selling residents' personal information.
RightsGrants basic rights like accessing, correcting, and opting out of data sharing for marketing purposes.Grants Californians a wider range of rights, including requesting deletion of their data, being informed about data sale practices, and limiting data collection and use.
Data TypesFocuses on personally identifiable information (PII) like names, addresses, and email addresses.Has a broader definition of personal information (PI), encompassing browsing history, geolocation data,and even inferences drawn from data.
EnforcementEnforcement relies on consumer complaints and investigations by the California Attorney General's Office.Creates a private right of action, allowing Californians to sue businesses for violations, leading to potentially stronger enforcement.
OverallProvides a baseline for online privacy protection, particularly transparency in data practices.Offers a more comprehensive and robust set of rights and protections for California residents' personal information.

CalOPPA is a stepping stone, establishing basic principles for data privacy. The CCPA is a more evolved framework, building upon those principles and offering enhanced control over personal information.

The CCPA doesn't completely replace CalOPPA. Both laws coexist, with the CCPA providing additional protections for Californians.

How does CalOPPA compare to similar laws in other states and countries?

Compared to similar laws in other states and countries, CalOPPA occupies a unique space. Here's a breakdown of its strengths and limitations:

Strengths:

  • Pioneer in data privacy legislation: enacted in 2004, CalOPPA paved the way for similar laws in the US and beyond, influencing EU regulations like GDPR.
  • Transparency focus: It mandates clear and accessible privacy policies, setting baseline standards for data practices.
  • Applicability beyond California: covers businesses targeting California residents even if located elsewhere.
  • Basic consumer rights: grants Californians essential rights like accessing, correcting, and opting out of data sharing.

Limitations:

  • Narrower scope: compared to newer laws like CCPA, CalOPPA applies to fewer businesses and covers less data types.
  • Limited rights: offers a restricted set of consumer rights compared to CCPA and similar state laws like Virginia's Consumer Data Protection Act.
  • Weaker enforcement: relies primarily on self-reporting and government investigations, lacking the private right of action seen in CCPA.

Comparisons:

  • US State Laws: Several states like Colorado, Virginia, and Connecticut have enacted their own privacy laws.These typically draw inspiration from CalOPPA but offer stronger protections and broader scope, like the CCPA.
  • EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): GDPR sets a significantly higher bar for data privacy, granting EU citizens extensive rights like data portability and erasure. CalOPPA's influence is evident in GDPR's transparency and accountability requirements.
  • Canada's Digital Charter: Similar to GDPR, Canada's Digital Charter outlines broad principles for data privacy but lacks specific regulations like CalOPPA.

CalOPPA served as a crucial step in online privacy protection, prompting further advancements in data privacy laws.

While its limitations are evident compared to newer regulations, CalOPPA continues to play a role in protecting Californians' data and influencing broader privacy frameworks.

FAQs

Is CalOPPA still relevant?

While CalOPPA has been superseded by the CCPA in many ways, it is still relevant because it applies to some businesses that are not covered by the CCPA. Additionally, the CCPA incorporates some of the principles of CalOPPA, such as the requirement for a clear and conspicuous privacy policy.

What are some limitations of CalOPPA?

CalOPPA has been criticized for its limited scope and lack of enforcement mechanisms. Compared to the CCPA, it offers fewer consumer rights and doesn't delve into aspects like data sales or profiling. Additionally, the law's reliance on self-reporting by businesses raises concerns about potential loopholes and inadequate enforcement.

Despite its limitations, what are some ongoing benefits of CalOPPA?

CalOPPA continues to play a crucial role in California's data privacy landscape. It provides a baseline framework for online privacy practices, influencing how businesses collect and handle personal information. Additionally, it empowers California residents with fundamental rights like accessing and correcting their data, setting a precedent for broader consumer protections.

Final Thoughts

The enactment of the CCPA and subsequent amendments like the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) have overshadowed CalOPPA's prominence. However, the law's core principles remain relevant and may continue to inform future privacy legislation in California and beyond. CalOPPA could potentially be strengthened through revisions or integration with newer regulations, creating a more robust and comprehensive privacy framework for the state.