EU Takes On Google

In a stunning rejection of the will of five million online petitioners, and over 100,000 protestor, the European Parliament has abandoned common-sense and the advice of academics, technologists, and UN human rights experts, and approved the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive in its entirety.  There’s now little that can stop these provisions from becoming the law of the land across Europe.

The Copyright Directive will update EU copyright laws for the age of Facebook and Google, with the aim of ensuring that authors, artists and journalists are “paid fairly” for their work.  One of the most controversial provisions, Article 13, would require platforms such as Google and Microsoft, to install filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted materials. That means that every article, audio feed, video, etc. that is posted on sites like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube must first go through a filtering system. 

Critics fear the measures would stifle freedom of expression by curtailing internet users’ ability to share content which will forever change the web from an open platform into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.    Forcing web providers to filter every article, every audio feed or video you post on sites like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, will allow the EU to censor any message they don’t like.

Article 11, aka the “Link Tax” is primarily the result of pressure from large press publishers lobbying for legislation to force major platforms like Google and Facebook to pay for the privilege of linking to a news organization.  It would give copyright protections to the publisher, not the author of the piece.   This will not only curtail sharing of news stories and articles but will unfairly penalize new writers from sharing their work.   It also has implications for internet based research publications and online encyclopedias like Wikipedia which relies almost entirely on hyperlinks for sourcing and footnotes.  The link tax could cost them a small fortune in taxes paid to tens of thousands of different publishers and corporations.

The European Digital Rights Organization says that this new law is a “censorship machine” that offers  an Internet where creativity is discouraged.”  Matthew Lesh of CapX simply refers to the law as “press regulation by the back door.”

For decades Google, Facebook and Amazon have made vast sums of money off the personal information of their users without oversight or regulation to protect their customers arguing that consumers had given them permission to take their personal data in exchange for using their production.   Not any more, at least not in Europe.  In 2018 the EU passed the General Data Protection Regulation that not only standardized the way companies like Google can process personal data of EU citizens, ensuring that consumers, not tech companies, have control over the collection and use of their personal information. 

The law that includes increased fines, breach notifications, opt-in consent and responsibility for data transfer outside the EU, applies to all organizations regardless of their geographical location.  If you want to access the roughly 500 million consumers living in Europe, you will not have to play by EU rules. And ignoring the law can be expensive.  Google learned the hard way in January of this year when they were fined $57 million U.S. dollars for failing to inform EU users how they collect data for personalized ads.

Sensing the inevitable, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon are now saying they could support a U.S. privacy law if they were given considerable input.  The Internet Association, which lobbies for big tech, and its president Michael Beckerman say they would support giving Americans reasonable access to their information and some privacy rights now enjoyed by the Europeans.   And, if you swallow this, I’ve some swamp land I’d like to unload. 

While the Copyright Directive is a dangerous obstacle to a free Internet and potential tool for censorship, I could get behind a version of the General Data Protection Regulation in the U.S.  Let’s face it, we no longer have any privacy.  Every time we pick up our phone, use GPS,  go online or log-in to our social media site, personal data is collected, repackaged and sold to the higher bidder, all without our consent.  American consumers should have some say in the matter.  But then there is always the swamp land!

Source: The New Censorship, By Robert Epstein, USNews; EU votes for copyright law that would make internet a ‘tool for control’, The Guardian;  The law that lets Europeans take back their data from big tech companies, 60 Minutes;   

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