The terms “pseudonymize” and “pseudonymization” are commonly referred to in the world of data privacy, but their origins and precise meaning are not widely understood among American attorneys. Indeed, most American dictionaries do not recognize either terms as part of the English language.1 While the terms derive from the root word “pseudonym” – which is defined as a “name that someone uses instead of his or her real name” – their meanings are slightly more complex.2

The CCPA was the first United States statute (federal or state) to use either term.3 The CCPA’s definitions for the terms borrow from the European GDPR enacted two years prior to the CCPA. Indeed, the with the exception of minor adjustments to conform the definition to CCPA-specific terminology (e.g., “consumer” instead of “data subject”), the definitions are virtually identical:

Confusion surrounding the term “pseudonymize” largely stems from ambiguity concerning how the term is intended to fit into the larger scheme of the CCPA. Besides defining the term, the CCPA only refers to “pseudonymized” on one occasion. Within the definition of “research,” the CCPA implies that personal information collected by a business should be “pseudonymized and deidentified” or “deidentified and in the aggregate.”6 The conjunctive reference to “research” being both pseudonymized “and” deidentified raises the question about whether the CCPA gives any effect to the term “pseudonymized.” Specifically, the CCPA appears to assign a higher threshold of anonymization to the term “deidentified.” As a result, if data is already to be deidentified it is not clear what additional processing or set of operations is expected by also pseudonymizing the data.

The net result is that while the CCPA borrows the term “pseudonymization” from European data privacy law, and introduces it to the American legal lexicon, it does not appear to apply the term or give it any independent legal effect or status.