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(New York Times, 12/15/15)
PNConnect Insight – Social media platforms are the most visible front in the data privacy culture clash between North America and Europe. And make no mistake, what the Europeans did just changed the game for American social and technology giants like Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and Instagram. For starters, obliging anyone under the age of 16 to get parental permission to use any social platform could very well change the tenor and culture of many of these platforms, as the younger users that drive those platforms are potentially forced off (if temporarily). Moreover, allowing national watchdogs or governments to levy fines (possibly into nine figures) against any company obtaining user information without explicit consent could wreak havoc on the business models and operations of most major social networks, which collect and mine data from social media posts and online search results as part of their digital advertising activity.
Predictably, American companies and tech press are fighting back hard, labeling the Europeans “totally crazy” and appealing the decisions of European courts against them. (For example, last month, a Belgian court ruled that Facebook could not collect information on people in the country who did not use its service; Facebook is appealing.) It might seem a more prudent strategy for companies with global aspirations to be more accommodating of the cultural expectations of the regions in which they want to do business, but that doesn’t appear to be on the agenda for most of the American companies. Instead, they’re girding for a long, drawn-out fight against European standards. Each side has some bedfellows on the other side; some US privacy activists are arguing that the Europeans have it right and that it is America that needs to change its laws, while others in the EU are airing concerns that the new rules could be used to censor speech. Any way you view it, this looks to be a long and potentially heated battle.
For brands doing online business in Europe, it’s critical to become aware of and knowledgeable about the new rules — especially if they end up varying by country. You don’t want to risk inadvertently violating the rules and inviting large fines. Take a good look at your online data collection policies and what you do with user data you acquire, and know how those practices may now need to differ in Europe from how you act in North America.
Read the rest of the stories on the PNConnect blog.