Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Privacy Less Controversial Than Piracy? For Now, Web Giants Don’t Sound the Alarm on EU Data Protection.

Though Internet companies seemed to have found their political voices during the U.S. SOPA/PIPA debate over Internet piracy last week, they’re less up in arms about another proposed bill, this time about a unified approach to online privacy in the European Union.

Some initial reactions to the proposal, which was pre-announced at the DLD conference in Munich and then published on Wednesday, were harshly critical.

Writer Jeff Jarvis was armed and ready to rebut European Commissioner Viviane Reding’s opening address on “the right to be forgotten” at DLD, having criticized her data protection stance in his new book “Public Parts.”

“I very much fear Reding’s ‘right to be forgotten’ and its impact [on] free speech and the right to know,” Jarvis wrote.

A European Microsoft executive was also quick with the skepticism. “We have been pushing for harmonisation of privacy laws for several years, but we are concerned that these proposals may be too prescriptive,” Ron Zink, who is Microsoft Europe’s chief operating officer and associate general counsel, told the Financial Times.

Analysts and industry groups called Reding’s ideas “draconian,” “prescriptive,” “onerous” and expensive.

But now that Reding has formally proposed her legislation, Web companies seemed more measured in their response. Though they didn’t endorse the bill, they seemed willing to work with it. Of course, they’d prefer to avoid walking into fines of up to two percent of their revenue.

In statements emailed to AllThingsD, Google asked for a “simple” solution, while Facebook continued to talk up its positive impact on European jobs.

Said Google: “We support simplifying privacy rules in Europe to both protect consumers online and stimulate economic growth. It is possible to have simple rules that do both. We look forward to debating the proposals over the coming months.”

A Google executive at a conference in Brussels further questioned how, exactly, third-party sites could be responsible for deleting all instances of data online after it had been posted.

Here’s Facebook’s extended statement:

The revision of Europe’s Data Protection framework is an important opportunity to develop regulation that both protects privacy and supports the creation and growth of modern services over the global Internet. We welcome the move towards more harmonization of Data Protection laws in the EU which will help create legal certainty and confidence for companies to operate.

We agree with the recent statements made by Commissioner Reding that the new regulation should foster growth and job creation. Services like Facebook already contribute significantly to economic activity in the EU and can be a major driver of growth and new jobs in the future.

We will continue to work closely with politicians and regulators in the EU in order to share our experience and expertise and contribute to achieving sound privacy regulation and a thriving digital sector. CEO Michael Fertik, whose company offers what could be seen as “the right to be forgotten” as a paid service to customers, said he didn’t necessarily support Reding’s proposal but he disapproved of industry hysteria around regulation of the Internet.

“I think that light regulation is often a stimulant to innovation,” Fertik said.

“Right now the absence of law supports the incumbents of the Internet, which are advertising businesses,” he added. “But what’s bad for Facebook today may be good for a thousand companies tomorrow. The biggest promise of the right to be forgotten is it’s going to enhance the trust of the Internet, which could be a boon to e-commerce.”

As for some other major Web companies in the business of identity and user-generated content, Twitter declined to comment on EU data protection policy, while Tumblr — which had been especially active in fighting SOPA — did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers on Thursday expressed concerns about Google’s new unified privacy policy.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik