Europe Is Protecting People Online: How U.S. Businesses Can Too
The fight for online privacy is off to a brisk start in 2023…on the other side of the Atlantic. The Netherlands is pushing tech companies to adopt stronger privacy policies. It has also put TikTok on notice about data flows to China. Meta lost its most recent case in EU courts with a ruling that has massive implications.
Social media users may finally be able to choose whether or not they want their data tracked and sold to advertisers — a choice they should have had from the start.
It is no secret that Meta has been collecting data from their users’ online activity, including search history and location data, and selling it to advertisers for profit. Even worse, the Facebook Papers showed that they also use our data to feed us content they know will make us angrier and stay online longer, contributing to greater revenues for Facebook.
Yet, despite countless reports and scandals, they and others seem untouchable. Until now.
The European Union recently ruled that Meta’s business model of targeting users with personalized ads without asking users for their consent explicitly is against EU data laws. This could mean that Facebook and Instagram, as well as other social media platforms, would have to ask users in the EU to “opt in” to having their data collected and used for targeted ads — a massive blow to their revenue, and such practices helped Meta gain $118 billion in 2021.
The ruling, however, would only apply to users in the EU. Users in the United States would not benefit from this ruling, so we must act to protect American users as well.
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Our elected leaders should step in to protect the data and privacy of users across the U.S. However, we are unlikely to see any meaningful action from Congress in the near future. In the absence of leadership from Congress, it is incumbent upon business leaders to step up to the plate to protect users’ privacy and start to follow Europe’s lead.
Businesses can also make the decision to start limiting the data they collect to what they truly need. Rather than tracking every single online movement, businesses can focus on leveraging data to improve their own sites and customer experience to keep users coming back for more.
Finally, business leaders should make the decision to give users more control over their data. While it is possible to change data-gathering permissions or delete your own data in some instances, it is not a straightforward process. This must change.
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We know that users truly value privacy. Companies like Apple have made the decision to prioritize their users’ privacy. Apple and Google’s Android have stepped in to stop social media companies and other applications from tracking all our online activity. It has proven wildly popular.
The EU has consistently been ahead of the game when it comes to protecting people while they are online. In the absence of our government stepping in and giving users the power to control their data and privacy online, business leaders must lead the way.