By Betsy Morris and Eliot Brown
Alastair MacTaggart wasn’t a likely candidate to spearhead perhaps the most sweeping changes to data privacy in the U.S.
Mr. MacTaggart, 51 years old, is a semiretired San Francisco real-estate developer, not a professional activist. He has little history with politics and a rarely used Facebook account.
And yet, after spending millions of his own money and enduring many “dark days” in which he felt he was on a lost crusade, Mr. MacTaggart claimed victory on Thursday when California passed a landmark data-privacy bill that gives consumers more control over how their information is collected and shared online.
“I didn’t sleep a lot the last six months,” he said in an interview late Thursday night, adding that he is gratified by the outcome. “I will be able to look my kids in the eye and say I tried to make the world a better place.”
A graduate of Phillips Academy Andover, Harvard University and Harvard Business School, he joined his mother’s brother in the real-estate business after moving to San Francisco in 1997. He battled through a “near-death experience” in his business in 2007 and 2008, involving two troubled condo-conversions in Richmond, Calif., as well as a life-changing fight with melanoma in his eye. After a “crazy deal of a lifetime” made him wealthy, he decided to take a break from real estate in 2012 with two young children and a third on the way.
Mr. MacTaggart’s interest in privacy began when he asked a Google engineer at a cocktail party if he should be concerned about the issue. Mr. MacTaggart recalls the engineer saying: If people knew what we knew about them, they’d be freaked out.