Europe And US Do Battle Over Privacy Rules That Will Govern The Internet

online privacyEven as US lawmakers propose new digital privacy protections for consumers, the US looks like a libertarian fantasyland and regulation-free zone compared with Europe in the minds of tech companies. European regulators and governments are seeking to enact sweeping privacy rules that would place enormous compliance burdens on US-based Internet companies.

As a result, the US government is standing beside Internet companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and eBay, lobbying European regulators to dilute or weaken the proposed rules. The New York Times sums up what could be required of Internet companies and ad networks in Europe if the proposed rules are enacted:

Under the European proposals, Web businesses would be unable to perform basic collecting and profiling of individual computer users unless they gave their explicit consent as part of policies that allow them to specify what kinds of information could be collected and for what purpose. Businesses would also have to permanently remove and delete personal information upon request, and national regulators would gain the ability to fine companies up to 2 percent of their annual sales for not complying.

In other words, Internet companies would need explicit consent for tracking and targeting. They would also have to provide a great deal more information to users, and there would be enforcement provisions with teeth. 

While US privacy groups are supporting and celebrating the tougher European approach, US representatives are seeking to remove the explicit consent to be tracked/targeted and “right to be forgotten” personal data provisions from the proposed rules:

During a speech in Brussels on Dec. 4, the United States ambassador to the union, William E. Kennard, urged lawmakers to amend parts of the legislation that would require businesses to obtain explicit consent from consumers before collecting and mining data and to remove all traces of personal data from the Internet upon request.

Proposals to weaken the restrictions on collecting data have been submitted by eBay and Amazon, as well as by industry groups like Digital Europe, a Brussels association whose members include Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, I.B.M., Oracle, the Google subsidiary Motorola Mobility, Texas Instruments and Dell, along with European and global tech companies. Some of the lobbying efforts have already borne fruit.

In an appearance before the European Parliament the ACLU argued that the US has been actively misleading European lawmakers about the state of online privacy protections in the US. The ACLU contends the US has falsely argued that American privacy rules are closer to Europe’s than they really are.

The European approach is burdensome and contains a “punitive” dimension, given that most of the involved companies are US-based. We might see a somewhat different discussion if these were mostly European companies. However US-style self-regulation is also not the answer, either.

The right approach, as always, is something in-between the hard-line taken by the Europeans and the laissez-faire, self-regulatory approach being advocated by the IAB and other advertising trade groups in the US.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Legal: Privacy


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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