Greetings from Brussels!
It’s been a fairly quiet week for privacy in Europe, although Brussels-based media outlet Euractiv provided reasonable insight into what can be expected from the EU geopolitical digital program in 2020. It is true that in 2019, big tech came under the scrutiny of legislators and regulators alike at both the member state and EU level. This coming year will see additional efforts to move the digital policy debate and design forward.
There can be little doubt that 2019 was a watershed year for online privacy for a multitude of different reasons. I think it is fair to state there was a reactionary consensus that consumers were potentially getting a raw deal from the tech industry and that they deserved greater protection from companies targeting their attention and online behavior facilitated through personal data processing. Post-GDPR, for example, the debate has now largely shifted to how to best regulate those platforms and technologies with an acceptance that this is expected. In what concerns the proposed ePrivacy Regulation, which failed to materialize in 2019, we should expect to see some movement through the Croatian Presidency of the EU, and notably with the Germans set to take over the presidency for the latter half of 2020. My gut tells me we will have a revised regulation this year, or it will have to go back to the drawing board wholesale.
Notably this week, the European Commission welcomed the entry into force of new EU rules for consumer protection. The aim? To better enforce and modernize current rules in parallel with digital developments. One can view a summary of those rules through "The New Deal for Consumers" fact sheet. Through a commission news release, Věra Jourová, European Commission vice president for values and transparency, said consumers rightly deserved these new digital consumer protections and urged member states to implement the rules without delay so EU citizens can benefit those rights. Member states have two years to transpose the new directive into national legislation, which also ensures compensation for victims of unfair commercial practices and imposes penalties for “mass harm situations” affecting consumers across the EU.
Interestingly in a recent article by TechCrunch, it was opined that human rights are being systematically abused on a massive scale due to the pervasive and entrenched practice of profiling internet users. If we accept that legislators, as well as regulators, acknowledge that online privacy is not just an individual but also very much a societal benefit, then we can safely say that the age of technology self-regulation is coming to an end. I am reminded — to name one EU regulator — of the CNIL’s priorities for 2019 in which they made targeted online advertising a top priority topic. No doubt this priority will carry on into the coming years. Moreover, the issue we all know goes beyond rooting out malign commercial online practices. Arguably, a high level of protection is required to protect our democratic principles and access to information from subjected bias and extreme political interests, as well.
Digital will continue to come with challenges for organizations and users alike. That said, as organizations continue to build data capture and utility into their operational models, every new initiative presents an opportunity to pause and seek improvements to the overall process. Notably, this benefits the value exchange for all.
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