EU vs US Data Protection

Johnston Chen


In January, the United States government and Silicon Valley lobbied against European efforts to increase consumer information privacy law in the European Union.  At that time, several proposed laws were working their way through the European Parliament.  These proposed laws are designed to give 500 million consumers the ability to block or limit many forms of online web tracking and targeted advertising.  While seen as a major boon in consumer privacy, all major American tech companies have lobbied the European headquarters in Brussels arguing that Europe weaken or remove these limits.

Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union highlights that, unlike Europe, the United States has no general data protection law.  As a result, he states that online companies in the United States may conduct “unfettered” data mining.  Under the European proposals, however, Web businesses would be unable to collect and profile individual users without their explicit consent.  Businesses would also have to permanently remove information upon a user’s request.

Adoption of the bill is expected in early 2014, and is critical for both European and American consumers because the outcome of these information privacy laws could critically affect United States technology companies.  Although based in the United States, many Silicon Valley companies typically generate a third or more of their sales in the European Union.  The profitability and continued success of companies such as eBay, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Texas Instruments, among other companies, could depend in large part on how the European Parliament decides to format their information privacy laws.  While these laws are designed to protect the privacy of the consumers, many corporations fear that their loss of data could turn into a loss of sales, hurting both the consumers and the corporation. As a result, the tension between consumer privacy and profitability is highlighted in Brussels’ current struggle over increased European privacy laws.