In scenes reminiscent of the last days of GDPR drafting, lobbyists from the advertising industry queued up to give European plans for the ePrivacy regulation a kicking.
The Future Media Lounge event sponsored by EDAA (the European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance) focused on “the potential implications of the proposed ePrivacy regulation on a free, independent, pluralistic and vibrant press across Europe.”
Publishers and the advertising industry alike claimed that any changes to current rules would result in the death of journalism and instead argued for industry self-regulation “to enhance transparency, user choice and control over online behavioral advertising.”
The frustration of ePrivacy Rapporteur Marju Lauristin was palpable as she complained about deja vu. “It is important to have a dialogue, but I am sorry to say it feels like we are listening to you, trying to take into account what you say, and yet we see no change in your responses. I cannot promise you what the final text will be, but I listen again and again to the same sentences in the same structures, so it seems like a dialogue is not possible. These arguments are word for word the same as I heard when discussing GDPR,” she said. “We have had very tight, not to say hot dialogues coming to the verge of fights, but it has been instructive and useful. We have tried to put in our proposals the good ideas and to take into account the legitimate concerns and fears of industries and of consumers. No one will be able to say it matches all interests, but I hope still that the Parliament’s text will be even better.”
Xavier Bouckaert, CEO of Roularta Media Group, said that following privacy rules online is a part of publishers’ everyday work.
Angela Mills Wade, a board member of EDAA and director of EPC, added, “The Commission pitches different fundamental rights against each other. The law should not dictate business models to publishers.” She continued, arguing for sector-specific rules, “Consumers value content for free, but it is not free to produce. If readers refuse to share their data, will publishers be forced to share news for free?”
Despina Spanou, director for digital society, trust and cybersecurity at the European Commission hit back: “We are not changing much. So you are not challenging just the new rules but the status quo. You are asking us to lower the bar of consent. We wanted to make the current rules easier to apply, more modern, more futureproof, but lowering the bar from the consent approach is very different.”
She continued, “I deny that the proposal says in any way you have to offer the service if the user refuses to allow the cookie. We do see the importance for having more press, more choice, more plurality. Even if journalists are paid on the number of views, you don’t need cookies for counting.”
Dutch MEP Sophie In’t Veld said she, like Lauristin, was irritated by the debate: “Privacy is a fundamental right. It is on a par with other fundamental rights, it’s not a political position. So whatever business models you develop you will have to respect that right. It is not negotiable. Full stop.”
In't Veld added, “I don’t want to hear any more people saying 'we are offering services for free' when we are paying with our data. Data has value. We are talking about consumers, but in reality, consumers have become the product. People should have a choice whether they want to pay with data — some people may be fine with that, or with money. I am a market liberal, I have absolutely no moral objection to companies making a profit, but it will have to be within reasonable limits. Every time we pass a piece of legislation, I hear the same cries of alarm saying it is going to kill this or that industry. If that was true every time, there would not be a single business left in Europe, so let’s not dramatize,” she said.
Despite In’t Veld’s appeals for sensible discussion, the hyperbole escalated even further with Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt saying, “I see advertising as the backbone of our democracies.”
“It’s free choice for consumers,” continued Corazza Bildt, who voted against the GDPR. “We are turning a directive into a regulation, the stakes are extremely high. Who is driving the digital revolution? It’s not the politicians. With the ePrivacy Regulation, we are not giving clarity.”
British MEP Dan Dalton said he would like to know, from any platform owner, how many people reject cookies. “If you are really concerned about this you can delete cookies and change your browser settings, you don’t need legislation. By getting the browser to manage the consent we are giving all the control to Google, which I am sure is not what we want,” he said.
As Lauristin confirmed, meetings in the European Parliament are ongoing as efforts are made to agree on a final text based on more than 800 proposed amendments. If arguments, like that at the Future Media Lounge event are anything to go by, that will not be an easy task.
Lauristin also confirmed that, despite rumors that her return to national politics in Estonia was imminent, she would remain in the European Parliament until that body had finished with the ePrivacy Regulation.
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