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California DMV’s Autonomous Vehicle Regulations Must Protect Users’ Privacy

3:48 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Driverless CarI was up in Sacramento today to call on the Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure that the regulations that they are developing to govern the use of autonomous vehicles – popularly known as driverless cars – will protect the operators’ privacy.

The company that will be most directly affected by the new autonomous vehicle regulations is Google, which is pioneering development of the robot-driven cars. The Internet giant was the driving force behind SB 1298, which charged the DMV with the task of developing the regulations and also rebuffed attempts to require privacy protections in the law.

However, it is not too late to implement privacy safeguards in this rulemaking and Consumer Watchdog called on the DMV to do so. Failure to act will mean substantial privacy risks from the manufacturers’ driverless car technology if there are not protections from what Google is best known for: the collection and use of voluminous personal information about us and our movements.

The DMV regulations must give the user control over what data is gathered and how the information will be used. Merely stating what data is gathered with no explanation of its use is woefully inadequate. The DMV’s autonomous vehicle regulations must provide that driverless cars gather only the data necessary to operate the vehicle and retain that data only as long as necessary for the vehicle’s operation. The regulations should provide that the data must not be used for any additional purpose such as marketing or advertising without the consumer’s explicit opt-in consent.

Without appropriate regulations, autonomous vehicles will be able to gather unprecedented amounts of information about the use of those vehicles. How will it be used? Just as we are now tracked around the Internet, will Google and other purveyors of driverless car technology now be looking over our shoulders on every highway and byway? Will the data be provided to insurance companies for underwriting purposes or to third parties that develop some kind of a driving score related to where and when individuals travel? Will it be used to serve in-car advertisements or advertisements through other venues in the Google suite of products? Will it be used to track our movements and those of surrounding cars and mobile devices so that Google’s advertisers can better locate us?

Google is the aforementioned leader in driverless car research and is attempting to steer regulatory efforts in various states, especially California. That’s why our concerns are so focused on the company. So I ask: Why won’t Google endorse simple privacy safeguards for its self-driving cars? I think there are two reasons.

First, Google’s entire business model is based on building digital dossiers about our personal behavior and using them to sell the most personal advertising to us. You’re not Google’s customer; you are its product – the one it sells to corporations willing to pay any price to reach you. Will the driverless technology be just about getting us from point to point or more about tracking how we got there and what we did along the way?

Second, computer engineers, who believe that more data is always better, are in charge at Google. They may not know what they would use data for today, but they think they may someday find a use for it and don’t want any restrictions on them now.

Google is first and foremost an advertising company; 98 percent of its $38 billion in revenue comes from advertising, and the more personalized the marketing the better. Indeed, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has said, “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

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California Attorney General Takes the Lead In Cybersecurity

7:54 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Kamala HarrisData breaches at major retailers Target and Neiman Marcus during last year’s holiday shopping season affected more than 100 million people and focused new attention on the need to protect person information stored online.

While it’s clear that tough data breach legislation must be enacted, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is taking action to improve cybersecurity in the state before new laws are passed. Today she released recommendations to California businesses to help protect against and respond to the increasing threat of malware, data breaches and other cyber risks.

In addition Harris is leading an investigation by state attorneys general into the Target and Neiman Marcus breaches, Don Thompson of the Associated Press reported:

Harris’ office also disclosed that California is leading a multistate investigation into the massive holiday season consumer data theft at discount retailer Target Corp. and luxury retailer Neiman Marcus, breaches that left tens of millions of customers at risk. More than 7 million Californians were affected by the Target breach alone, Special Assistant Attorney General for Law and Technology Jeff Rabkin said.

The U.S. Justice Department is taking the lead in trying to identify the culprits, who are suspected to be based overseas, while the multistate investigation focuses on whether the retailers share blame because they lacked the necessary precautions to prevent the thefts. The state investigation also will explore whether Target and Neiman Marcus acted properly as soon as they learned of the problem, Rabkin said in a telephone interview.

The guide, Cybersecurity in the Golden State, offers suggestions focused on small to mid-sized businesses, which are particularly vulnerable to cybercrime and often lack the resources to hire cybersecurity personnel. In 2012, 50 percent of all cyber attacks were aimed at businesses with fewer than 2,500 employees and 31 percent were aimed at those with less than 250 employees, Harris said.

Key recommendations for small business owners include:

  • Assume you are a target and develop an incident response plan now.
  • Review the data your business stores and shares with third parties including backup storage and cloud computing. Once you know what data you have and where it is, get rid of what is not necessary.
  • Encrypt the data you need to keep. Strong encryption technology is now commonly available for free, and it is easy to use.
  • Follow safe online practices such as regularly updating firewall and antivirus software on all devices, using strong passwords, avoiding downloading software from unknown sources and practicing safe online banking by only using a secure browser connection.

In 2003 California was the first state to pass a data breach notification. In 2012 the law was amended to require any breach that involved more than 500 Californians be reported to the attorney general.

The 170 breaches reported to the attorney general’s office in 2013 represent a 30 percent increase over the 131 identified the year before, according to figures provided to The Associated Press. Among entities reporting breaches in 2012 were American Express Travel Related Services Co., Kaiser Permanente and several state government agencies, including the departments of Public Health and Social Services.

Given the current data breach laws Harris is taking meaningful action. But, what’s ultimately needed is a law that would make her best practice recommendations legal mandates. We need a California Financial Information Privacy Act that would:

  • Change breach notification standards to be immediate.
  • Set limits on the time data can be retained. And limits on what information can be collected and retained.
  • Write minimum-security standards into the law so that they are no longer voluntary.
  • Most importantly: create a private right of action. Put a price tag on retailers’ mistreatment of our private financial information.

Until there is a real price to pay, Target, Neiman Marcus and other retailers will continue to make us targets.

Posted by John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director.

Target Needs to Pay for Targeting Our Privacy

8:04 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Target ShirtTarget is targeting our privacy. There’s a big red bullseye, a target – like the one on the shirt I’m wearing today – that Target and Neiman Marcus, who chose not to show up to answer questions today, have put on us because they haven’t done enough to protect our private financial data. And the reason is that there’s no financial incentive to do so.

110 million Americans had their personal financial information breached. That ‘s one out of two adult Americans. I was in Sacramento today to testify in front of a joint California Assembly committee hearing investigating the breach. And yet Target did not send a single representative to Sacramento today to answer questions about the largest data breach in American history?

The fact that Target didn’t show up today tells us all we need to know about how sorry Target is and how committed it is to our privacy.

If you are as offended by this as I am, I have a t-shirt for you to wear too.

The reason Target won’t face legislative questions today is the same reason that our personal financial information and data is at such grave risk: there is no price to pay. There are few financial penalties to companies like Target when our personal data is taken.

Beyond public embarrassment, Target has little financial incentive to care.

We, the consumers, pay the consequences but we have no remedies.

According to the Committees’ own staff research, 1 in 4 consumers whose personal information that is taken becomes a victim of identity theft. 1 in 4 victims of a data breach is also a victim of identity theft. If these numbers apply to Target, that would potentially create more than 25 million identity theft victims.

There’s a harm. The retailers had a role in creating that harm. And yet they have no liability under California law for what they have or have not done to safeguard the sanctity of our personal information.

The problem with privacy violations is that unlike thefts of money or property the law does not recognize a harm and does not provide a remedy.

As the Committees’ staff research states: consumers have no remedy under the law for the loss of financial privacy suffered through these data breaches, and the 1 in 4 risk of id theft they face. Zero remedies.

So why would retailers invest in greater security, or meet voluntary industry standards, or move away from risky magnetic strip technology?

If they don’t have to pay a price they don’t have an incentive to change. And that leaves our private financial information with a big bullseye on it.

What can we do?

We need a California financial information act that mirrors our Medical Information Privacy Act.

When there is a data breach of our medical information, the drug company, hospital or medical center is liable to the consumer for $1,000 per violation.

Guess what? Medical data breaches are fewer and farther between. When they occur companies pay a big price.

The same should be true for our financial data. We need a California Financial Information Privacy Act.

It would:

  • Change notification standards to be immediate.
  • Write minimum-security standards into the law so that they are no longer voluntary.
  • Set limits on the time data can be retained. And limits on what information can be collected and retained
  • Most importantly: create a private right of action. Put a price tag on retailers’ mistreatment of our private financial information.

Until there is a price to pay, Target and other retailers will continue to make us targets.

If you are as offended as I am by Target’s absence today in Sacramento, please share our Target design online to show your displeasure.

When a company as big as Target won’t provide a single representative to answer questions about the largest data breach in American history, it is time for California to step up and deliver on the promise in Article 1 Section 1 of our state constitution: Privacy is an inalienable right.

Posted by Jamie Court, President of Consumer Watchdog.

AAA Gets an “F” For Dumping Agents, Leaving Customers in the Lurch

1:51 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

 AAA TruckTriple-A has been American drivers’ friend almost since U.S. roads linked the nation together. It has rescued families from flat tires and worse. It has planned millions of family vacations and sold well-regarded auto insurance. It has always skewed toward older drivers and welcomed their devoted renewal of memberships. Its employees got good benefits and stayed with the organization.

For all those reasons, it’s a shock to hear that—at least in Northern California—AAA is dumping senior employees like so much excess baggage, according to a lawsuit filed by 10 of them. At AAA’s California State Auto Club branch, successful veteran insurance agents report being fired or forced out and replaced with younger, cheaper hires and call center employees.

Drivers who have kept up their AAA memberships for decades should be steamed about this on principle. But there are practical reasons to be angry, especially for drivers with AAA auto, home or boat insurance.

The laid-off AAA insurance agents are the people you would have called if you had a policy question or problem with a claim. Or if you wanted to add your child to a policy. Or maybe just for advice—for instance about whether a rental car is covered or whether your auto insurance is good in Canada.

Where are you going to get that help now? Who you gonna call?

Your file would likely become a “house account,” often with no agent assigned. Maybe the call center kid can find your file, put you on hold and hunt for a manager to help him figure it out. The hourly workers answering the phone won’t know you from Adam.

If the same thing is going on at other AAA chapters, it’s not likely the public will know unless more lawsuits emerge.

Judy DuganThe “why” of these dismissals is not complicated. Insurance agents get bonuses when they sell new policies and smaller yearly payments from the insurance company as policies are renewed. The agents are expected to earn your loyalty and keep you in the fold.

The senior agents service up to thousands of policies built up by sales over the years. This takes time, so they may sell fewer new policies.

By dismissing the agents, CSAA gets to keep their yearly servicing payment.

CSAA’s bet is that you won’t care enough to endure the thrash of taking your business elsewhere. The fact that anyone laid off at age 50 is unlikely to ever find a comparably paying job? Not AAA’s problem.

Layoffs off of older, higher-paid employees are nothing new in modern corporate culture. But this is a case when the fallout also harms the customer in a direct way. It’s worth thinking about before you dial the number on the AAA insurance brochure you got in the mail.

Posted by Judy Dugan, Research Director Emeritus for Consumer Watchdog

Patient and Consumer Initiatives Will Save Lives and Money

5:13 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Originally published in the Sacramento Bee on Sunday, January 12, 2014


Jamie CourtNo political consultant sees more angles than Richie Ross, but his tangent opposing two pro-consumer ballot initiatives, which could turn 2014 into the Year of the Patient, is unsound geometry (“Voters can’t avoid health care politics,” Jan. 2). The ballot measures will save lives and money by closing fatal loopholes in Obamacare and California’s patient-safety laws.

The Affordable Care Act requires everyone to buy insurance but does not limit its cost. The “Justify Rates” ballot initiative before voters in November requires California health insurers to justify rate hikes and get approval before they take effect, as now happens in 35 other states.

The millions of individual policyholders and tens of thousands of businesses whose rates could not go up without state approval under the measure are those who have been hardest hit by premium increases over the past decade.

The ballot measure applies California’s tough property casualty insurance regulation, enacted by voters in 1988 as Proposition 103, to health insurance. A recent study by the Consumer Federation of America found the law has saved California drivers $102 billion. Drivers today pay less in real money than they did in 1988, the only state to see any decline.

The same tough rate regulation already applies to medical-malpractice insurance for physicians and hospitals, including that paid for by private clinics.

Consumer Watchdog has used the law’s protections to lower medical-malpractice insurance premiums by $77 million over the past decade. Ironically, doctors enjoy the protection that millions of Californians who pay for health insurance don’t yet have.

That’s why arguments that the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, now circulating, will raise malpractice rates are phony.

This ballot measure will save lives by curbing substance abuse by doctors, stemming the tide of overprescribing, and updating a 38-year-old cap on victims’ recovery that prevents injured patients from getting justice.

The California Medical Board estimates that 18 percent of doctors have a drug or alcohol problem during their careers. Mandatory drug testing, as now applies to most other public safety professions, will prevent dangerous doctors from practicing. Updating our medical-malpractice laws will allow victims of drugged, drunk and dangerous doctors to get justice.

One quarter of all medical discipline in the state involves abuse of drugs or alcohol. The Pack Patient Safety Act will protect the victims of this abuse and their families from the third leading cause of death in America: medical malpractice.


Jamie Court, proponent of the initiative requiring public justification of health insurance rates, is president of Consumer Watchdog. Carmen Balber is the nonprofit group’s executive director.

$100 Billion Win

2:26 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Prop 103 100 Billion SavedI’m truly humbled.

It was a big deal when, 25 years ago this month, you and other California voters joined with me to pass Proposition 103, the toughest auto insurance regulation in the nation. But I had no idea exactly how big.

Today, in downtown Los Angeles, the Consumer Federation of America released the findings of a new report: Prop 103 has saved California drivers over $100 billion dollars since 1988. That’s about $8,125 per California household. In fact, California is the only state in the country where auto insurance rates actually went down over the last 25 years.

Back in 1984, the California Legislature passed a law requiring drivers to have auto insurance…but didn’t limit how much insurers could charge. Predictably, insurers hiked prices by double digits. Voters revolted against the price gouging by passing Prop 103, and the result was billions in savings.

Now, the federal health reform law is requiring everyone to buy health insurance. But Obamacare doesn’t limit what insurers can charge. It’s déjà vu all over again. Not surprisingly, insurance companies are hiking prices by double digits.

We Californians have been through this before, and with your help we’ll revolt again next year. Consumer Watchdog has put an initiative on the November 2014 ballot that will apply Prop 103′s money saving reforms to health insurance companies. Health insurers will have to open their books and justify any rate increase before it takes effect.

Harvey Rosenfield

This will be another David v Goliath battle like the one we won together twenty-five years ago.

Auto insurance in California is a $20 billion a year industry. Health insurance is more than a trillion. Imagine the savings we’ll be celebrating 26 years from now once voters regulate the health insurance industry at the ballot next year.

Thanks for all of your support.

Posted by Harvey Rosenfield – Founder of Consumer Watchdog and author of Proposition 103. For more on Consumer Watchdog and Prop 103 visit our website.

To the Ballot for Alana and Troy

12:57 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Pack MemorialLast Sunday, at the 10th memorial of my children’s death, we started a march to the ballot for patient safety. I hope you will join us. My seven year old, Alana, and ten year old, Troy, died because an addict got thousands of pills she never should have been prescribed since she had no physical symptoms.

She fell asleep at the wheel, swerved off the road and killed Alana and Troy. Yesterday we gathered the first signatures at Troy and Alana’s elementary school for the Troy and Alana Patient Safety Act — which seeks to stop substance abuse among patients and physicians, as well as creating legal deterrence for reckless prescribing and dangerous medicine.

As I wrote in an oped in last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, we are going directly to the voters because the state’s medical association has opposed modest reform of patient safety laws at every turn in the legislature.

No family should have to live through what mine has because doctors didn’t know or care that they were prescribing thousands of pills to a drug addict.

In the coming weeks, you will be seeing signature gatherers at your local markets asking for your signature for the Pack Patient Safety Act. Please take a moment to sign and help us bring these critical issues of patient safety to the voters of California. We need 504,000 signatures from voters to make the November 2014 election, please help us help other families avoid the needless pain mine has had to endure. If you would like to learn more about the Pack Act and get involved in the signature gathering effort, please visit http://www.packact.org.


Posted by Bob Pack – Creator of the California CURES database and proponent of the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Act.

Brown Out

9:10 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Governor Jerry BrownGovernor Jerry Brown waited until late Friday to veto legislation requiring coroners to report to the medical board whenever narcotics cause deaths. The medical establishment has opposed the bill, which is aimed at weeding out the small number of dangerous and drug dealing doctors who are responsible for the vast majority of prescription drug overdose deaths.

Brown cited state costs as his reason, but it just doesn’t add up. The bill would have cost no more than hundreds of thousands of dollars. The power of the medical establishment is the real motive here, and their distaste for any accountability or transparency. The arrogance of medical-pharmaceutical complex is astounding, but what’s really disturbing is that they have Jerry Brown’s ear and pen.

The Los Angeles Times did a groundbreaking investigation of prescription overdose deaths and dirty doctors based on obtaining coroner reports like the ones that SB 62 would have required to be reported to the medical board. The fact that such a simple measure cannot get past the governor’s desk shows why we need to go to the ballot with the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, which requires mandatory drug testing of physicians and other patient safety measures.

Drug testing physicians is not only critical to protecting the public from substance abusing doctors, but it is also remedies another epidemic — the belief by the doctors lobby that they are above it all. Make them pee in a cup and some of the arrogance we have been witnessing in response to common sense measures like SB 62 will be reduced too.

After today, it might be wise to make Governor Brown pee in a cup too. The loss of judgement and clarity in the deliberation of SB 62 makes one wonder.


Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter. Read the rest of this entry →

Take Action Now — Stop Sacramento’s 11th Hour Assault on Environmental Protection

3:37 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Take ActionWe need your help! In the last week of the legislative session, polluters may be getting a big gift if last minute legislation is not amended.

Californians can look forward to hazardous waste being “left in place” instead of removed and sent to specially constructed and licensed facilities under last minute amendments to Speaker John Perez’s Assembly Bill 1330. The legislation now calls for meeting environmental targets by “reducing the disposal of hazardous waste.”

That’s like “cleaning up” Prince William Sound by letting Exxon leave oil in the Bay.

Will you help us stop this outrageous power grab by polluters by calling on your legislators for amendments today?

The toxic amendment appears to be the brain child of polluters and Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) Director Debbie Raphael. The DTSC has been the subject of whistleblower and consumer complaints that it is falling down on the job, but the last minute amendments would let polluters have a pass on cleaning up their pollution. Among the beneficiaries are Boeing, Chevron, KB Homes, Lockheed Martin and Waste Management, all prolific donors in Sacramento.

No doubt major industry players from Boeing – with its radioactively contaminated Simi Valley land – to KB Homes – and their plans to build on radioactive sites next to industrial factories without adequate clean up, are rubbing their hands together. This legislation disposes of the need for disposal, saving them millions of dollars and making official what the DTSC has already been quietly sanctioning.

Waste that is not removed continues to expose the public to toxins via different pathways from breathing it in to ingesting it through food or water.

Please take a minute to weigh in with your state lawmakers and stop this power grab by polluters.


Posted by Liza Tucker, Consumer Advocate and Author of the Golden Wasteland Report. For more information on Consumer Watchdog and our Toxics Watchdog project, follow us online on Facebook and Twitter.

I Support Planned Parenthood, Why Isn’t Planned Parenthood Supporting Women?

3:09 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Planned ParenthoodFifteen women and mothers whose lives have been devastated by medical negligence wrote to the CEOs of Planned Parenthood today asking them to reverse a position that is devastating to women’s health and access to justice in California. The letter asked the CEOs to reverse their position on a proposed ballot measure to change a law that has discriminated against women for the last 38 years.

Read the letter here.

“We are women whose lives have been shattered by medical negligence,” they wrote. “We take issue with Planned Parenthood’s leading role in opposition to ‘The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act,’ a pending California ballot measure that would simply update for inflation the state’s 38 year old cap on compensation in medical malpractice cases. The outdated cap is unfair to many who have suffered medical harm, regardless of gender. But it has a disproportionate impact on women.”

“Planned Parenthood’s opposition to the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act is against the interests of women in this state – your core constituency. The unfair, antiquated and sexist cap perpetuates an injustice against women that must be remedied. As a group that has been so deeply impacted by medical negligence and this outdated law, we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in hopes you will reconsider your position on the ballot measure and support a reasonable index of the cap for inflation to bring California’s patient safety laws and women’s access to justice into the 21st century.”

Read more about the medical negligence suffered by the 15 women and their families here.

The letter explained how the limits on patients’ legal rights in medical negligence cases particularly harms women.

“In much the same way that the glass ceiling continues to undercut the income of working women, the malpractice cap on noneconomic damages means compensation for those harmed by medical negligence is largely determined by the income of the person who was injured. The calculus is simple and sexist.”

“A stay-at-home parent with no income or a parent who works only part-time to be able to spend more time with the children will be treated very differently under the cap than someone who is working full-time at a high-paying job.”

“A woman whose child was killed by medical negligence, or who lost her ability to have children due to medical negligence, or who underwent an unnecessary mastectomy due to medical negligence, is not likely to lose income. But she has clearly suffered a grievous injury. Her compensation for her loss is limited to an amount below what anyone would consider fair in 2013.”

Planned Parenthood is usually a champion for women’s rights, so their backwards position on this issue is particularly stunning. Luckily, there’s still time before the initiative reaches the ballot for the leaders of Planned Parenthood to listen to the women of California and recant.

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