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Facebook Pushes Back Against European Privacy Onslaught
US companies are using a mix of diplomacy and defiance to try to avoid bending to privacy regulators.
Facing increasingly emboldened data protection regulators in Europe and a recent judicial setback concerning cross-border data transfers, Facebook appears to be taking a more aggressive stance on privacy and digital identity. In multiple countries, the company is seeking to educate both regulators and the public while using the courts to fight back.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that across Europe, Facebook is entangled in multiple cases and investigations involving national regulators focused on overlapping but sometimes distinct privacy questions:
Ahead of a court ruling due in Belgium as early as this week, the Menlo Park, Calif., company is attacking this case against it as an ill-thought-out attempt to regulate privacy that would instead remove one of the tools Facebook uses to stop automated programs from hacking into users’ accounts…
In Germany… a regulator ordered Facebook over the summer to allow users to use pseudonyms as opposed to real names. Facebook has appealed the order in court, and argues that its policy helps ensure safety and privacy by ensuring users know with whom they share information. A ruling is expected this fall, the regulator said.
The company and US companies in general recently were dealt a severe blow, as the European Court of Justice essentially invalidated a long-established Safe Harbor agreement that allowed the transfer and processing of data between servers in the US and Europe.
Google is similarly being more defiant after years of trying to work out a negotiated antitrust settlement with the European Commission. The company strongly denied that it has abused its market position in search. Instead, it said that its UI evolution is directed toward quality and improving the user experience.
For both Facebook and Google, the legal and regulatory issues in Europe are complex and complicated. The largely unregulated atmosphere of data collection in the US is disdained in Europe. European regulators are trying to find ways to enable the public to have more control over personal data. However, that legitimate effort is partly tainted by hostility to US internet companies and Google and Facebook in particular — an echo of the “cultural imperialism” debates of past decades.
These issues aren’t going away any time soon, with new, more comprehensive privacy regulations coming to Europe in 2016.
It will be interesting to see whether the more aggressive approaches being taken by Facebook and Google yield positive outcomes or simply cause regulators and European courts to stiffen their resolve to control and punish them.