Facebook and Google to treat Europe as the 51st State of the USA

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On the 4th of February 2013 seventeen prominent US consumer and civil liberties organizations addressed a strong petition letter to highly ranked executives of the American government in Washington and to one American in Brussels, Mr. William Kennard, American Ambassador of the US Mission to the EU. Every European needs to know what all those people are asking for in this letter.

It is very rare that we see American organizations coming together to convince the American authorities to stop harassing European policy makers on an issue. This Aurora Borealis occurred a couple of days ago where all those people asked officially from their compatriots to support the efforts of Europe to establish an enhanced unified EU framework for data protection and stop the fierce American lobbying campaigns against that. Moreover, earlier on, in the end of 2012 the same group of organizations wrote in another letter, to the EU this time: “promotion of stronger privacy standards in Europe will benefit consumers around the globe, as businesses improve their privacy practices and security standards”.

EU reform of data protection rules

Before we go any further into the critical analysis of the preposterous involvement of American companies with European policy making, it is of critical importance that we see here what exactly this European reform is and how it is bound to significantly upgrade the data protection standards for the European consumer.

It was high time that this reform was made, in order to substitute the rather obsolete data protection rules that had been set in 1995. It is obvious that these rules that were enforced at a time when the Internet was only a promising project have little validity today. In a world of more than 2 billion internet users and more than 1 billion facebook members, data protection is as important as an issue as global warming. Every day we interact on the Web in various environments like cloud, e-shops, forums etc. and we are constantly asked to provide personal information in order to be provided with a service. This tends to happen so often that we usually do not seem too much worried when we give personal information in bulk quantities.

Moreover, the Internet has become a huge market arena for all types of innovative business models that require data from the user without the company being compelled to obey to any precise law or rule on how to collect, process and share private data. Particularly, companies like Google or Facebook collect and process private databases in an obscure and covert way and on the top of that they are free to commercialize all the data they gather and gain billions of euros. At least in Europe, until now, we are neither protected sufficiently by the European law nor aware of the risks that we run when we surf on the Web. Consequently, this reform is long awaited and will fill a huge gap in the critical issue that is called “European Consumer Protection”.

The benefits of the reform in Data protection rules in Europe that has been proposed by the European Commission on the 25th of January are threefold:

a) The reform aims to succeed a global set of data protection rules for all 27 country members. This basically means no more 27 different and colliding set of rules that increase cost and bureaucracy for business operations on the Web.

b) Companies will be fully aware of what they are allowed and what they are not allowed to do when it comes to the registration, processing or sharing of private information. Most importantly, the European Internet user will be notified when their private data are being hacked. Consequently, the European Web will be a safer environment and this in turn will establish a better business environment with more business opportunities and of course jobs. As Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission in charge of Justice and Alan Shatter, the Irish Justice Minister said in Dublin 2 weeks ago “EU GDP could grow by a further four per cent by 2020 if the EU takes the necessary steps to create a modern digital single market”.

c) The reform will pass new rules that will inform the European consumer about the mysterious voyage of his private data: where they are, where they are going, who can share them with whom etc.

Well, it seems that this reform that is currently at the top of the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU and is expected to be voted by the European Parliament this April, is exactly what the European consumer and Business needed at this point. But why then the American side, as pointed out in the letter above, is trying to sabotage the whole venture?

Earth and Water for Facebook and Google

There is no doubt that the Americans that addressed that letter to the US officials and the US Mission to the EU in Brussels knew very well what they were talking about. During the last year, in view of this coming reform in the European data privacy rules, numerous complaints from EU stakeholders have come up to the surface about the pressure that the US lobby mechanism in Brussels is putting on them to influence their policy decision making. This sounds like a horror movie! And yet it is 100% true!

Let’s start with the vice-president of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, who described last year the US lobbying effort on the issue as “absolutely fierce”, according to the Telegraph. What is more, Jan Philipp Albrecht, the German MEP that is fighting for stricter data privacy rules in the European Parliament has stated in Financial Times: “Throughout the last year there has been a massive campaign from the side of AmCham [American Chamber of Commerce], which organized events throughout Europe and met with many MEPs in Brussels and Strasbourg”… “But now, since January when my report was published, lobbyists, especially from Silicon Valley, have stepped up their campaign to water down the EU privacy regulation.” Also, Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the Dutch Data Protection Authority, has repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction for the unorthodox US lobbying on this issue, and particularly for the approach of the infamous Internet Giants of the Silicon Valley.

The capital of Europe is not Palo Alto

It is quite evident what is going on here. Europeans protest for the unbelievable pressure of Facebook and Google to influence European policy making. Even Americans protest for the inappropriate behaviour of their compatriots as if they are apologizing on behalf of those American Internet Dinosaurs. I then felt the need to write also a small letter, as member of the European Sting, to those people that enjoy the excellent California climate all year round and think that Europe is the 51st State of America.

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg from Facebook, Dear Mr. Page and Mr. Brin from Google,

We Europeans think that we have the right to define our destinies. We have done so for thousands of years and we will certainly keep doing so. No matter how much money you spend on lobbying in Brussels it is not possible to sabotage this crucial reform of Data Privacy in Europe. It is not possible to make alterations on the reform just because you will not be able any more to gather, process and store in the obscure way you are used to the private data of the European consumer. Data Privacy is sacred in the Old continent and this will not change no matter how many galas or dinners or newsletters you send to EU officials. We do not buy and sell private data here like you do back home.

Please try to master the term cultural and geopolitical market diversity that I am sure you will find somewhere in your business development plan and give Europe the right to protect the European consumer in a better way than the way the American consumer is protected online at this moment.

Leo Buonapartis

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Comments

  1. I am an European. There are also complaints about the draft of the “reform” here. You are not speaking for all Europeans. You should address the problems we Europeans and others have with the draft. The times of an unprofessional nationalism are gone. Solve the problems. And solve them so, that data protection is global. Even Europeans shall be without data protection if the stay in Turkey, Afghanistan, Bali or USA if we follow the draft. The way how global problems can be solved are shown by the Geneva convention, the WTO and WIPO. Not by a drawback in nationalism of the 19th century. Become professional instead of emotional.

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