A coalition of watchdogs is asking European regulators to issue stringent new online privacy rules. "The European Union must act to help set a global standard protecting the fundamental right to privacy," the Center for Digital Democracy, ACLU, Consumer Federation of American and other groups say in documents provided to EU officials on Monday.
The groups argue that U.S. ad companies increasingly threaten privacy -- both in the U.S. and abroad -- thanks to the emergence of automated ad exchanges. "Leading U.S. companies have unleashed new forms of data collection practices that merge offline and online data, provide access to mobile and geo-locational information, and gather social media actions and behaviors of individuals and their friends.... Among the information combined for these ad exchanges on individuals are health, financial, racial, location and political interests."
The groups' lobbying efforts appear aimed at counteracting a paper issued last week by U.S. officials. That document urged European regulators to hold off on new privacy regulations -- especially ones that could prohibit some forms of data collection without opt-in consent. "The United States believes that consent should be meaningful and that the methods of expressing such consent take into account the context," the paper says. "For example, consent need not always be express, affirmative consent, and the means for individuals to communicate their choices should match the scale, scope and sensitivity of the personal data that organizations collect, use, or disclose."
The privacy organizations say in their request that European regulations will give a boost to privacy efforts "outside the EU as well."
Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, tells MediaPost that he expects the EU's privacy law "will set the standard for regulation in the U.S."
Whether that's true or not remains to be seen. After all, Congress might not especially care about EU privacy laws. In fact, some lawmakers seem hostile to the idea that U.S. policies regarding privacy should be influenced by any outside groups. Just last year, some House members asked the Federal Trade Commission why it was encouraging an "international organization" -- the World Wide Web Consortium -- "to create policy that could have adverse impacts on consumers and the economy." Lawmakers were referring to attempts by W3C, a voluntary group, to develop standards to implement Web users' do-not-track requests.
At the same time, EU regulations could still end up influencing U.S. companies -- especially if they don't want to develop different data-collection policies and platforms for different countries. And, if nothing else, from a public relations perspective, it might not go over well for multinational companies to adopt vastly different data collection practices in the U.S. and abroad.