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How Europe’s new online privacy rules could benefit Americans

Long before the Cambridge Analytica scandal, new rules were being established by the European Union to give consumers greater control over their data. Starting in May, every company, big or small, that keeps your information online or elsewhere must comply. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now, how Europe is preparing for new rules that will give consumers more power over their personal data, and whether that could be a template for the U.S.

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to be grilled by members of the European Parliament this week about the Cambridge Analytica scandal. His testimony is taking place as new rules in the E.U. are set to take effect on Friday.

    Although Britain is leaving the E.U., it is applying the new law, and is pledging to be a world leader in data protection.

    Some companies, like Facebook, Apple and Twitter, say they are updating their global policies in anticipation of the new regulations.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant has this look from U.S. — from London.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Like any other European citizen who's got an online presence, I have been inundated over the past few weeks with messages from Internet companies, from the social media giants, and even from the company that made my fitness tracker.

    They all want me to go into my settings to update my privacy data, and that's ensure that they are compliant with the new European rules that come into effect later this week.

    Now, here's a video the Irish have done that explains the basics.

  • Narrator:

    So, from May 25, the new E.U. general data protection regulation puts more responsibility on organizations who use our data and gives us greater control over how it's used.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    As the deadline approaches, the flurry of e-mails is getting stronger.

    I have got one here from Facebook security, who says that we have made it easier for you to control your data, privacy and security settings in one place. And what they say is they want to explain more about how we create a personalized experience for you.

  • Narrator:

    They must tell us clearly and in straightforward terms how they will use and protect our data. Only personal data that is needed to provide us with a service should be collected, and it shouldn't be used or shared for other unrelated purposes.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The new regulations have been in the making for several years, long before the Cambridge Analytica scandal was exposed.

    Among the protections, companies must provide tools on their platforms to let consumers opt out. They must also clearly disclose data breaches to end users within 72 hours of learning about it and allow users the ability to keep a copy of their own private data.

    Companies can no longer sell a customer's details without the customer's permission or bury this information in the small print about privacy, as happens in America.

    Outside the Bank of England and across the 27 other countries of the European Union, citizens are taking back control of their privacy as the new regulations prepare to kick in.

  • Phil Lee:

    I suppose it's evolution, rather than revolution. But, having said that, it is the biggest shakeup in European privacy rules in 20-odd years.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Lawyer Phil Lee specializes in privacy issues.

  • Phil Lee:

    Under the new law, you may have heard there this idea of the right to be forgotten, which is your right as an individual to write to a business and say, I want you to delete the personal information that you hold about me.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Lee worked in California's Silicon Valley for four years, and is now back in Britain helping American business to navigate E.U. and global data protection compliance.

  • Phil Lee:

    In the U.S., there is no sort of equivalent overarching legislation that applies across absolutely everything. Instead, what happens in the U.S. is that you get very sector-specific rules or rules that are designed to address specific risks.

    So you get, for example, financial services privacy regulation, or you get health related privacy regulation. But the challenges with that approach are that you can get gaps that fall between the middle. And so there are sections of individuals whose privacy are not protected in quite the same way that they are over here in Europe.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The new rules apply equally to a giant company like Google, to the smallest firm that keeps anyone's data. It means they have seek permission to pass on any data that potentially identifies a person, for example, by their hair color, I.P. address, their job, political views or the medication they take.

    We repeatedly asked Google for an interview, but our requests were ignored.

    The companies are facing rigorous inspections from Britain's data protection authority, whose London base is here. The staff of the information commissioner is being beefed up to enforce the new European privacy regulations.

    Deputy Commissioner Steve Wood can fine a company 4 percent of its global income.

  • Steve Wood:

    These companies are taking us seriously. And under the new law, we will have even stronger powers. The companies are increasingly understanding as well that data protection is important with trust with their customers, so customers might go elsewhere or may even use these platforms less if they don't take data protection seriously as well.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Despite Brexit, Britain is enthusiastically embracing the new European regulations and aspires to become a world leader in data protection.

    Damian Collins chairs Parliament's Digital and Media Committee, and favors international cooperation to ensure that European standards go global.

  • Damian Collins:

    In the past, we have been largely reliant on the tech companies telling us they are complying with the law, without the power to peer behind the curtain and see what they are actually doing. There are good reasons why the Facebook algorithm shouldn't be made public, but it doesn't mean that Facebook shouldn't be inspectable by a relevant independent authority to make sure they're complying with the law.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Consumer advocacy groups like Open Rights aren't convinced by the government's promise to be the Internet's police force.

    Some critics say the rules are too broad. Jim Killock is the executive director.

  • Jim Killock:

    Governments are allowed to do more or less what they like when it comes to data within government. They have got lots of exceptions. And that's a problem, because government simply thinks the rules shouldn't apply to them.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Despite promises to reinforce the firepower of the information commissioner, Killock worries about the wriggling ability of big data companies, with their multibillion-dollar war chests.

  • Jim Killock:

    Enforcement is going to be a problem because big companies do have a huge amount of resource, but also the number of officials is small.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This presentation by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in San Jose was his first public appearance following his grilling by Congress over the data harvesting scandal involving Cambridge Analytica.

  • Mark Zuckerberg:

    This has been an intense year.

  • Mark Weinstein:

    The idea that Mr. Zuckerberg has that the world should be an open place, where everybody knows everything about everybody, is absurd, and it's dangerous.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Mark Weinstein has set up a social media company called MeWe that doesn't rely on advertising.

    If, for example, his members want to post extra videos or have a secret chat service, they have to pay for it. Weinstein is a longtime privacy campaigner, but his comments have to be seen through the prism of being a business rival to Facebook.

  • Mark Weinstein:

    Privacy is an innate human right. It's almost part of the social contract for being alive.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    To back up its claim that it's not tracking you, MeWe has set up this test called, Is Your Social Media Stalking You?

  • Narrator:

    There is no data tracking, no ads, no censorship, no algorithms.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    It says, select the networks you use. So, I have got accounts with Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. And it's now investigating to see just how many cookies are out there. I have got 75 tracking me.

  • Mark Zuckerberg:

    And what I have learned this year is that we year is that we need to take a broader view of our responsibility. It's not enough to just build powerful tools. We need to make sure that they're used for good.

  • Damian Collins:

    It's very interesting that Facebook have taken a preemptive measure against these new rules coming into place, and they have moved 1.5 billion Facebook users out of European jurisdictions.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Zuckerberg's address to European parliamentarians is being seen in London as a snub to Britain.

  • Damian Collins:

    What we have said is that if he won't accept to come to the U.K. to give evidence to the committee, that we will issue a summons against him the next time he enters the jurisdiction of the U.K. authorities, demanding at that point that he does give evidence.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Digital experts on this side of the Atlantic believe that the new European regulations will ultimately benefit Americans, if they decide that they are being shortchanged by Internet giants, and demand the same levels of protection now available in Europe.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in London.

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