Household appliances, which record every step we take plus the permanent analysis of all our data, with the objective to maximise the profits of Internet companies. What sounds like a nightmare scenario of the future, could be in our grasp faster than we think. The AK represents the interests of Austrian customers also in Brussels and campaigns for strengthening Internet privacy.
At the start of 2017, the Commission presented a proposal to review, based on the so-called “ePrivacy Regulation” the protection of privacy with regard to electronic communication. The European Parliament has sent out first signals for more consumer protection; however, there are also a few, which in the interest of the digital economy, point in the opposite direction. The outcome of the negotiations cannot yet be foreseen. However, apart from the proven protection provisions, the plan of the EU Commission also included proposals, which have to be rejected from the AK's point of view.
The proposal by the Commission leaves the door open regarding the total surveillance of consumers; this should set alarm bells ringing. The EU Commission itself appropriately calls these “tracking services”. Companies can identify their customers via their Smartphones and WLAN or Bluetooth connection, which enables them to record all customer movements. This shall make exact profiling and individualised advertising possible — however, movement data saves entire profiles with certain preferences and interests of customers. If the EU Commission would have its way, businesses would not even require obtaining the approval of their customers for such “Person Tracking”. A notification in the store itself shall be adequate, whereby not even an option to raise an objection has been provided for. From the AK’s point of view, this is totally inadequate to protect the privacy of consumers.
Another critical point of the ePrivacy Regulation is the spying out of our online behaviour. By digging with analysis tools in ever-growing mountains of data, Internet companies are hoping to make large profits; however, data protection runs the risk of falling by the wayside. Current discussions concern the abolition of the annoying cookie banners on websites. Cookies serve the tracing of surfing behaviour and the recording of customer data. According to the proposal of the Commission, in future, approval shall be obtained via a pre-selected browser setting instead of banners. The AK therefore demands that the browsers have to be pre-set to the most data protection-friendly variant; however, this is exactly what the current Commission proposal does not provide for. According to a Eurobarometer survey from 2016, 60 % of Austrians change their browser setting for reasons of data protection. However, this also means that 40 % don’t do this and therefore have to be protected by data protection-friendly defaults. This affects first and foremost the elderly and in general people who are less internet savvy.
Another challenge for the legislation is the so-called “Internet of things”: more and more companies offer “smart” appliances, which are fitted with sensors and connected to the internet — from car to toothbrush.
Due to hidden listening characteristics and the non-transparency of data recipients and data use purposes respectively, the legislation is faced with major challenges. This is very well illustrated by a doll made in the USA, which, via Bluetooth and voice recognition, replies to questions children ask and therefore would “almost resemble a real friend”. Appropriately, it was therefore also called a “spy in the nursery”, as the doll forwarded the conversations of the children directly to the US manufacturer. The knowledge about our behaviour — what we buy, read, think, where we are — becomes a product, based on which internet companies hope to make a tidy profit and which has a major potential for abuse.
Positive is the fact that in future the protection of confidentiality of instant-messaging services such as WhatsApp shall be improved. There is no reason why the content of an SMS shall be better protected than messages via WhatsApp, Google or Facebook.
The AK plans to make major contributions to these discussions at European level to strengthen the right to data protection and privacy on the internet instead of sacrificing these on the altar of profit interests of Internet companies.