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Consumer Watchdog Says Sweeping Online Data Protection In Europe Could Benefit U.S. Consumers

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Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 11:46 am

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Consumer Watchdog Says Sweeping Online Data Protection In Europe Could Benefit U.S. Consumers

Google’s New Arrogant Data Consolidation Policy Underscores Need For Strong Protections

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Landmark online privacy regulations proposed in Europe today that include the concept of a “right to be forgotten” could help provide U.S. consumers with tools necessary to protect their data held by Internet giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft, if ultimately enacted, Consumer Watchdog said today.

Google’s latest unilateral action combining data from all its services shows why we need protections like those proposed in the European Union, Consumer Watchdog said.  Google can change its policies at will and create a digital dossier of all our info overnight that we cannot delete.

“Google has eliminated its last pretense that it protects consumer privacy – the walls are torn down,” said John M. Simpson, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Group’s Privacy Project director. “Instead of a privacy policy Google has finally admitted they have a profiling policy – and every Internet user is a target to be spied on.”

The improved European safeguards will not come automatically and U.S. Internet companies are likely to mount an intensive campaign to weaken them before they are fully implemented, Consumer Watchdog warned.

“In today’s digitally driven, globally connected markets, the final European rules will have substantial impact in the United States,” predicted Simpson. “That’s because the global internet giants — Google, Facebook and Microsoft — will have to follow Europe’s rules.  It will be cost effective for them to use the same procedures and protections around the world. Americans are likely to receive the same level of protection in many areas as Europeans.”

The proposed changes in the European Data Directive underscore the difference in the way privacy is viewed in the US as a consumer protection issue, compared to Europe, where privacy is a basic human right, Consumer Watchdog said.

“Once Google and Facebook are following European rules, there will be no way for the companies to justify the obviously inadequate protection in the U.S.,” said Simpson. “That’s why we’re actively supporting the Europeans.”

Consumer Watchdog warned that it could take as long as two years to get the proposed date regulations implemented and businesses have already started lobbying to weaken them.

“You can expect a tremendous effort by the corporate titans to water down the new regulations,” said Simpson. “Last year Google spent a record $9.7 million on lobbying to get what its executives want from Washington. You can expect similar boatloads of money flooding Brussels, Belgium, where the European Commission is located, as the proposed data directive moves forward.”

The European Commission proposed these key changes in the data protection law that went into effect in 1995 when only 1 percent of Europeans were on the Internet:

—A ‘right to be forgotten’ will help people better manage data protection risks online: people will be able to delete their data if there are no legitimate grounds for retaining it.

—Companies and organisations must notify the national supervisory authority of serious data breaches as soon as possible (if feasible within 24 hours).

—Wherever consent is required for data to be processed, it is clarified that it has to be given explicitly, rather than assumed.

— People will have easier access to their own data and be able to transfer personal data from one service provider to another more easily (right to data portability). This will improve competition among services.

— EU rules must apply if personal data is handled abroad by companies that are active in the EU market and offer their services to EU citizens.

Simpson is in Brussels representing Consumer Watchdog as an Invited Expert taking part in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group.  The organization is an international group that sets standards and protocols for the Internet.  The Tracking Protection Working Group is seeking to create standards for an online Do Not Track mechanism.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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