Will 2011 be the “year of privacy”? There are many reasons to think so.
In the US, the Obama administration is planning to establish a committee or “czar” to oversee potential new internet privacy rules. Republicans and Democrats alike seem to be concerned about online tracking and privacy issues. The question would appear to be not “if” or “whether” but how burdensome and strict new privacy rules will be for publishers and online ad networks.
In Europe privacy has long been treated with greater protection and stiffer rules than in the US. However those rules are inconsistent across countries as the treatment of Google Street View and its private WiFi data controversy has shown.
Bloomberg reports that EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding is emphasizing the need for a uniform set of privacy rules and regulations across Europe. She’s quoted by Bloomberg saying that the country specific responses to the Street View privacy breaches varied considerably. The article also points out that the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, “unveiled plans for stricter and more harmonized data protection rules that would make it easier for people to get personal data corrected, deleted or blocked and may also introduce criminal penalties across the region.”
Uniform regulations will create more certainty and clarity for companies operating within Europe. However stricter rules will likely be unwelcome by companies such as Google, which has repeatedly tangled with the EC over its data retention policies.
The EC yesterday announced a formal anti-trust investigation against Google. Privacy is not a part of that investigation; however Europe could use the threat of fines or other penalties to try and gain privacy related concessions from Google as part of a settlement of the anti-trust action.