How the Commission's EU data protection reform will affect the digital world

17 December 2015

The EU recently announced that it settled on tough new data protection laws. This could have adverse affects and unintended damaging consequences on the advertising industry. 

The EU fix on the 4 year run in trying to find a common agreement on Data Protection is a mixed bag.  Of course advertisers, and businesses more generally, will be pleased that there is an end to the indecision. We particularly welcome the need to deal with only one data regulator.

However the compromise result is less clear. The fine detail may be better than the press release but at first sight both citizens and businesses will be disadvantaged.  The European Parliament has failed to understand the impact of its hard-line political stance. This is the EU at its worst.

The end result is a new Regulation that is based on 5 year old thinking, sourced from old technology and old expectations.

Advertisers will welcome the Council insistence on unambiguous consent for children data rather that the parliament’s explicit consent. It is a small but important outcome.

However the imposition of an age 16 definition of a child requiring parental consent fails the common sense test.  The headline will be 15 year olds thrown out of Facebook, but the reality is even darker.  Children will be tempted not to tell the truth about their age.  Very soon after joining social media sites they will hit the recorded adult age of 18, but may be only 12 or 13.  They will gain access to full adult content.  No one with their feet on the ground would have voted for that.

It seems a compromise has resulted in age 16 EU wide, but Member States allowed the freedom to have a lower age.  On a legislative level this make a complete nonsense of having a universally applicable Regulation.  It also shows the contempt there is for the Single Market.  Companies will not know which age to apply.  Only lawyers will be the winners.

The Right to be forgotten remains a real concern.  First there is the principled point that this allows celebrities and politicians to censor the Internet; this appears to be an argument that has been lost.  From the business point of view, however, the right to demand the erasure of all data has the paradoxical effect of not being able to respect the wish, as the use of data has to be retained for use in ‘suppression files’.  This is an odd result, unless it became accepted that it is a legitimate reason to retain data.

European Commission - Press release

Reform of the data protection legal framework in the EU

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