Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Europe Sets the Pace on Privacy Regulation

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Europe Sets the Pace on Privacy Regulation

Article excerpt

While the E.U. shows the way, the United States is far behind when it comes to protecting people's data online.

The European Union is considering far-reaching privacy regulations that would give the citizens of its member countries significant control over how Web sites and marketing companies collect and use data about them. Years in the making, the European effort stands in stark contrast to the much slower pace of discussions about online privacy laws in Washington.

Reports in The New York Times and elsewhere have documented the dubious but legal ways in which companies, including many that most people do not even know exist, build profiles of people's behaviors, browsing histories and shopping habits by tracking them online and off, through data from retailers, for instance. Those profiles are then sold to marketers and others without the knowledge of the person whose information is being traded.

Europe has historically been more protective of personal information than the United States, which still has no general law to protect people's privacy online while most E.U. nations do.

The privacy policies of American companies are voluntary, with the exception of protection under federal laws for certain kinds of sensitive information like health records and data about children younger than 13. Now, European policy makers are proposing to harmonize new, tougher rules across the 27-member union.

Several proposals would go well beyond the voluntary policies of companies like Google.

They would require companies to obtain permission before collecting personal data and specify exactly what information will be collected and how it will be used. If asked, companies would have to provide users with data that has been collected about them and allow them to fix mistakes. One proposal would include a so-called "right to be forgotten" that would make it mandatory for companies like Facebook to delete all information about users who want to wipe the slate clean. …

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