As anyone who pays attention to the world of data – and data privacy in particular – cannot help but be aware, those crazy Europeans are pushing some more of their mad data protection laws (a good summary of which can be found here) including the clearly completely insane ‘right to be forgotten’. Reactions have been pretty varied on in Europe, but in the US they seem to have been pretty consistent, and can largely be boiled down to two points:
1) These Europeans are crazy!
2) This will all be a huge imposition on business – No fair!!!
There have been a fair few similar reactions in the UK too, and there will probably be more once the more rabidly anti-European parts of the popular press actually notice what’s going on. As I’ve blogged before, the likes of Ken Clarke have spoken up against this kind of thing before.
So I think we need to ask ourselves one question: why ARE these crazy Europeans doing all this mad stuff?
Well, to be frank, the Internet ‘industry’ has only got itself to blame. This is an industry that has developed the surreptitious gathering of people’s personal data into an art form, yet an industry that can’t keep its data safe from hackers and won’t keep it safe from government agencies. This is an industry that tracks our every move on the web and gets stroppy if we want to know when it’s happening and why. This is an industry that makes privacy policies ridiculously hard to read whilst at the same time working brilliantly on making other aspects of their services more and more user-friendly. Why not do the same to the privacy settings? This is an industry that makes account deletion close to impossible (yes, I’m talking to you, Facebook) and pulls out all the stops to keep us ‘logged in’ at all times. This is an industry that tells us that WE should be completely transparent while remaining as obscure and opaque as possible themselves. This is an industry that often seems to regard privacy as just a little problem that needs to be sidestepped – or something that is ‘no longer a social norm’ (and yes, I’m talking to you, Facebook again)…..
So…. If the internet ‘industry’, particularly in the US, doesn’t want this kind of regulation, this kind of ‘interference’ with its business models, the answer’s actually really simple: build better business models, models that respect people’s privacy! Stop riding rough-shod over what we, particularly in Europe, but certainly in the US too, care deeply about. Use your brilliance in both business and technology to find a better way, rather than just moaning that we’re interfering with what you want to do. When fighting against SOPA and PIPA (and I hope ACTA too in the near future), most of the industry champion the people admirably – perhaps because the people’s interests coincided with their own. In privacy, the same is actually true, however much it may seem the other way around. In the end, the internet industry will be better off if it takes privacy seriously.
Regulation doesn’t happen just because a bunch of faceless Belgian bureaucrats have too much power and too little to do – it happens when there’s a real problem to solve. Oh, they may well go over the top, they may well use crude regulatory sledgehammers where delicate rapiers would do the job better, but they do at least try, which seems more than much of the industry does…
So don’t blame the crazy Europeans. Take a closer look in the mirror…