California governor proposes 'new data dividend' that could call on Facebook and Google to pay users

Key Points
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom proposes "a new data dividend" that could allow California consumers to get paid for their digital data.
  • Some tech experts have suggested that companies like Facebook and Google should pay consumers for their information.
  • The governor also called for reeling in two big-ticket projects — the state's high-speed rail and proposed Delta twin tunnels.
Gavin Newsom
Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — In his first state of the state address on Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed "a new data dividend" that could allow residents to get paid for providing access to their data.

"California's consumers should also be able to share in the wealth that is created from their data," Newsom said from the State Capitol in Sacramento. The Democrat said tech companies that "make billions of dollars collecting, curating and monetizing our personal data have a duty to protect it."

Newsom, who took office just over four weeks ago, also called for reeling in two big-ticket projects — the state's high-speed rail and proposed Delta twin tunnels.

The data dividend proposal follows the state legislature's passage last year of a landmark data privacy bill, granting consumers specific rights related to their personal digital information that's collected, shared or maintained by businesses. The legislation allows consumers to request that personal information be deleted and requires businesses that collect personal data to disclose how and why it's being used.

Newsom said his staff asked him to come up with the plan. He didn't provide details in his address, but some tech experts have suggested that companies like Facebook and Google should pay consumers for their data.

Democratic state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, who represents part of Los Angeles County and was one of the primary authors of the data privacy bill, described the plan as "the next frontier of the online and privacy conversation."

Representatives for Facebook and Google didn't respond to requests for comment.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify following a break during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee joint hearing about Facebook on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

As for the $77 billion rail project, which has faced cost overruns, Newsom said the construction will "cost too much and take too long."

An audit last year faulted California's High-Speed Rail Authority for "flawed decision making and poor contract management." A business plan released in early 2018 showed its projected baseline cost soared up to 20 percent from two years earlier and indicated the cost could rise to nearly $100 billion.

The opening date for the Los Angeles to San Francisco bullet train has also been delayed by at least four years to 2033. That means getting to the next phase of Sacramento to San Diego is even further out.

"There's been too little oversight and not enough transparency," Newsom said.

But the governor approved of going ahead with part of the rail link — a section between Merced and Bakersfield. He said the state can work toward connecting the Central Valley to other parts of California while also seeking more federal funding and private money.

Newsom ordered "new transparency measures" on the rail project and said the state will "hold contractors and consultants accountable." He said the information will be posted online and include such items as costs and even travel expenses for those involved.

If the state abandoned the high-speed rail, it could be forced to give back billions of dollars to the federal government.

"I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump," Newsom said. "Nor am I interested in repeating the same old mistakes."

Rocky road for California train
Rocky road for California train

Newsom also announced on Tuesday that he wants to downsize the $17 billion water tunnel plan proposed by former Gov. Jerry Brown. The massive plan, dubbed "California WaterFix," involves building twin tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that would bring water to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

"I do not support the WaterFix as currently configured," Newsom said. "Meaning, I do not support the twin tunnels. But we can build on the important work that's already been done. That's why I support a single tunnel."

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a water cooperative serving nearly 20 million people in six counties, agreed last year to take a large stake in the twin tunnels project. Farmers in the Central Valley, where there's a budding water crisis, have provided some support.

But the twin tunnels project has been criticized by environmentalists concerned about diverting water away from the Delta, as well as some Northern California elected officials, who worry about the hefty costs for taxpayers.