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Publishers Fear EU Privacy Changes Will Kill Their Business

An alliance of news publishers, including The Financial Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, The Telegraph, Daily Mail and Les Echoes, has protested against new changes to European Union privacy laws. According to the papers, the new rules will “potentially kill” their businesses, and put too much power into the hands of Google, Apple and Facebook.

The publishers argue that fresh regulations relating to cookies – small files that track users’ online habits and allow the targeting of relevant ads – could cut off the source of their digital income. According to their open letter, the rule change “will give those global companies a tighter grip on the personal data of European digital citizens.”

What’s General Data Protection Regulation?

EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, is the most crucial change to data privacy laws in over two decades and will come into force on May 25, 2018. The cornerstones of the future rules on Privacy and Electronic Communications are:

  • All electronic communications must be confidential. That means no scanning, intercepting or storing text messages, emails or voice calls without explicit user’s consent.
  • Confidentiality of users’ online behavior and devices has to be guaranteed. Consent is needed to obtain identifying information on a user’s device – this includes IP addresses and MAC addresses and, for mobile phones, IMEI and IMSI information. Placing browser cookies also requires consent.
  • Processing of communications content and metadata is conditioned to consent. Communication metadata has to be deleted or made anonymous unless users give their consent or the details are required for billing purposes.
  • Spam and direct marketing communications require prior consent. Any marketing calls, text messages or emails must be allowed in advance by recipients. Marketing callers will be obliged to display their phone number or use a special prefix number designated for marketing calls.

The ruling applies to any organization processing EU citizen data. As one of the most prescriptive privacy laws in existence, it will become the effective worldwide standard that international businesses will have to follow.

Opposition by Publishers

The new privacy changes will allow users to opt out of cookies through browsers such as Firefox or Chrome, as opposed to individual websites. This way, websites will no longer be able to track the pages people visit when they are surfing the Internet. Most browsers already have such options, though the new standard will require making them more distinct and clear.

Publishers are worried that the single “switch” to opt out of all cookies would result in the majority of users taking this option, thus putting a major brake on websites’ capability of sustaining their targeted advertising models.

Furthermore, Facebook and Google have built their empires on their ability to give users the services they genuinely want. As such, they tend to get users’ consent for collecting their data much more readily than small sites.

For that reason, the changes are likely to further add to the huge issue publishers already face as Google and Facebook get as much as 90% of all new digital display advertising. Besides, smaller publishers will be compelled to be more careful about what information about users they share with ad buyers, cutting back marketers’ ability to make their own choices.

The Drive Behind the Regulations

Internet users are getting increasingly wary of being constantly tracked by advertisers. The popularity of ad- and tracker-blockers is still very high, and online publishers have trouble persuading users to opt seeing ads.

Although research conducted in the US earlier this year showed that Democrats and Republicans both strongly supported keeping the FCC’s privacy rules for browser histories and other data, Congress wiped the rules out anyway. This happened despite 92% of consumers claiming they don’t want their browsing data sold or shared with third parties without consent.

In contrast, EU institutions have a long track record of putting consumer needs before profits of tech corporations. For instance, this year the European Commission threatened to fine Facebook, Twitter and Google if they don’t overhaul their terms of service, which are now designed to claim users’ content as their own and avoid liability as far as possible. Facebook will also pay $122 million in fines over charges that it deceived EU regulators during its 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp.

The Silver Lining

There is still hope for those digital publishers who will weather the regulatory changes – scarcity of data will inevitably increase both its quality and price. “The supply of people willing to tolerate advertising or give over their data is going down, and when that happens, prices go up — making the remaining data more valuable,” said Jim Edwards, editor-in-chief of Business Insider UK.

Despite the publishers’ plight, EU citizens will likely appreciate the possibility to have more control over cookie tracking and enjoy more robust protection from monitoring of their communications. We at NordVPN welcome the stronger oversight of Internet users’ privacy and hope to see similar steps taken by regulators in other countries.

Are you looking forward to the new privacy rules? How do you think they will affect you? Please let us know in the comments below!



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