The State of Privacy, Part 1: The Right to be Forgotten

Posted on 28. Jul, 2013 by in Marketing Strategy, Uncategorized

While US citizens and companies are awakening to the spectrum of new opportunities available to them by relationships developed through internet-based marketing programs and social media portals, in contrast, the EU is considering relatively severe restraints for companies and vendors operating through the internet.  It’s a continuation of the EU’s strong stand for personal privacy exemplified by last year’s ‘Cookie Law’.  While nowhere near done (Britain is promoting an argument for country-by-country standards), the EU’s pioneering efforts are substantially more energetic and more restrictive than the industry-initiatives lobbied for by our own Washington leadership.  It’s reasonable to assume the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation will ultimately impact other countries…especially the United States.

The Regulation, say its promoters, is aimed at “rebalancing” the relationship between the internet and the individual.  It appears to have several facets:

  • ‘Tattoo removal’  Individuals today have no easy way of removing information about themselves from the internet; it remains in hyperspace forever.  The EU Regulation would allow private citizens to remove (or ask that it be removed) information about themselves of a personal nature.  This provision (Article 17) has been dubbed “the right to be forgotten”.
  • Proactive, Opt-In  The Regulation would also specify that individuals need to give permission before their behavior can be monitored and used and/or sold to third parties.  This is the “opt-in for tracking” provision of the Regulation.  Currently data gathering organizations, both in the US and EU, are building profiles of customers’ behaviors, browsing habits, and shopping routines by tracking them online and off.  The information is acquired through numerous third-parties, with retailers a prime source.  The organizations then sell this observational data without the knowledge or permission of the customers.
  • Trickle down  Perhaps most controversial is the mandate on data gatherers to inform third parties to whom data has been sold of an included consumer’s petition for his/her information to be expunged.  Excluded from this provision are journalistic entries, comments on articles, and posts to blogs.  These areas are excluded on grounds of freedom of expression.

The EU’s Regulation calls for substantial fines for organizations refusing to comply with requests to erase customers’ personal details.  The current penalty structure (yet to be finalized) calls for fines up to 2% of global gross income.

Avenues to address the do not track option could include software options providing a “do not track” setting, much the same as today’s browsers allow blocking the acceptance of cookies from sites visited.  Still, it’s conceivable that many consumers may still opt-in to tracking (the way many allow cookies to be placed in their computer) for the benefits provided by the tracking data; conceivably merchandise offers, information blasts, etc..

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