Google, Facebook May See Tougher Data Use Rules in Europe

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Print this article Print

Companies like Google and Facebook, which collect and reuse data from customers, could face new EU restrictions, according to a report.

When Instagram tried to change some of its user data use policies unilaterally in December, a huge user backlash forced the company to reverse its plans.

That was a big win for consumers, said Child.

"I try to educate people to delete their browser cookies and other personal information" when using the Web, he said. "A lot of people are unaware that their information is being stored."

It's likely that some of the new pressure on user privacy being seen in Europe could eventually find its way to this side of the Atlantic Ocean, said Child. "They seem to be more inclined to enforce individual privacy rights there. I think that's great. I hope we see more of that in the U.S."

Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy for the nonprofit public policy group the Center for Democracy and Technology, told eWEEK that the United States trails other nations around the globe in having general, overarching privacy laws for its citizens.

"The U.S. is really the oldest developed country in the world that doesn't have any detailed privacy laws," said Brookman. "We have a few statutes here and there."

Arguments have occurred in the United States for years that this country should have some basic privacy laws that would cover Internet-related scenarios involving data collection and use, he said.

Europe has had such laws since 1995, though they are often seen as high-level and vague, according to Brookman.

"No one really knows what they always mean, so there is a lot of uncertainty there," said Brookman.

That's why the EU is moving to correct them nowadays, trying to make them more concrete, he said. At the same time, some in Europe concede that the laws they do have aren't really very effective.

Whatever happens in the EU could ultimately affect the United States, he said, because some Europeans say they aren't happy that their own data is collected and used by companies in the U.S., where privacy rules are perceived to be more lax.

Some consider the United States to be a "Wild West" when it comes to consumer privacy rules, he said.

Eventually, the United States is going to have to have real and effective privacy laws, said Brookman.

"Who knows how soon they'll get here," he said. "There's going to have to be enough of a hue and cry. And even if we do get it, if law enforcement isn't aggressive with it, it won't really matter."