Want Privacy? Move to Europe

Ideas and Issues

euro_internet_privacy_custom-8ee191296b311315d8f8271fcb0b6672f75ca820-s900-c85Pittsburgh   New internet privacy rules are emerging in Europe with the announcement that there will be one set of rules governing internet data for all 28 countries in the European Union. US companies are already crying like stuck pigs even though the rules do not take full effect for another two years and still have some procedural steps before being completely finalized.

The problems from the tech side: permissions and transparency. The EU rules would require individual user sign-off on every instance where a company wants to use your data. Period. In the USA consumers at best are asked for a blanket permission without knowing the what or wherefore, but increasingly knowing that ticking approval on the box means you can expect ads to follow interminably that try to align your interests and their products. In Europe conceivably you could simply say “no” to use of your data for advertising purposes, while in the USA the constant requests for sweeping approvals almost block usage of your phones and other tools unless you automatically consent. The outline of the new regulatory regime in Europe in this area indicates that penalties and fines for companies aren’t patty cake, but could range as high as “4% of global profit.” One corporate lawyer complained to the Wall Street Journal that ambiguous law and high fines were a “toxic” combination. The EU has their attention!

On the transparency side Europeans are about to learn how they are sorted by the algorithms used by the companies. That’s not to say they are going back office and seeing the code, but they will see the “baskets” and categories where they are grouped. And, they can complain about it and that should be interesting. Add the earlier right of Europeans to “disappear” or have data removed from Google, Yahoo, and the other search engines, and Europe isn’t just a different set of governments from the United States, it’s a whole different world.

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton, in a speech on security coinciding with the most recent Republican shout out, debate, or whatever they call it, pleaded with tech companies to play nicer with the government in the name of security, claiming the techies need to get over the Edward Snowden revelations. I imagine that she’s not asking for a real solution as much as a workaround, but in some way her speech also demonstrated the real difference on privacy and its regulation between Europe and the United States. In Europe the regulations flow from what the individual wants to governing corporate behavior. In the United States it runs the other way and what the corporations want from the individuals ends up in government regulations. There they are worried about individual rights. Here we are just sales figures on profit and loss columns, more data to be crunched, part of the garbage in and the garbage out.

This may be a case where compliance with EU regulations may end up having some benefits that wash over the shores on our side of the Atlantic.