How Europe can support innovation and consumer protection

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Connectivity and the Internet of Things are starting to creep into the automobile sector. [Abdullah AlBargan/Flickr]

Europe marks the 10th anniversary of Data Protection Day today (28 January), during which time, technology has evolved beyond expectations and radically changed the way people use digital services, consume information and communicate globally, writes John Giusti.

John Giusti is Chief Regulatory Officer at GSMA.

Continued innovation in technology, mobile services and the rise of the Internet of Things means more and more people are connected to each other and to ‘things’ through smart sensors, wearable devices, machine readable tags, interactive advertising and much more. This hyper-connectivity is generating ever-increasing volumes and new categories of data. Technology has never had such power to use data to bring new benefits to citizens, businesses and governments.

This flow of information allows consumers to enjoy more connected, personalised lifestyles and delivers other benefits such as financial and energy savings. It also brings new efficiencies in accessing government and healthcare services. Reaping the benefits of a digitally connected, data-driven economy and society, however, will depend on strengthening the trust of consumers and citizens through meaningful transparency, choice and control over how their data is collected and used.

Technological innovation around ‘Big Data’ developments has brought us to a crossroads in the debate about privacy. There are ethical questions to be asked about how to balance the privacy rights of individuals with the role that technology and data can play to help address some of the most pressing needs of our communities and the broader society – whether it is using Big Data in managing road traffic to reduce air and noise pollution, in understanding and preventing the spread of diseases, or making government services more efficient. 

To ensure confidence and trust in a data-driven digital market and connected society, stakeholders on all levels need to take a people-centred approach to data protection and electronic privacy. Harmonisation of national policies within the European Union, and interoperability with international frameworks, is essential in today’s globally connected and interdependent world.

The GSMA and its members are calling for a rethink about how we can provide individuals with real transparency, choice and control over the collection and utilisation of their data to reflect the deeply dynamic and contextual nature of the services they consume.

For example, the Internet of Things is making its way into the automobile sector with carmakers investing in data centres to collect information from drivers of connected cars, including driving habits, to deliver greater convenience and personalised services.

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) saw numerous prototypes that collect different types of data, raising the question of how industry and policymakers can work together to ensure individuals are given transparency and choice regarding the amount and type of information collected.

The European Commission, the Parliament and Council recently agreed a General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to strengthen the rights of individuals and make businesses more transparent and accountable about the data they collect and use. The GDPR will likely come into force in March 2018, bringing one law into effect across all member states.

While this is a good step forward in addressing the need for consistent and clear rules on the use of individuals’ data, the e-Privacy Directive still needs to be addressed to ensure the policy landscape reflects current technologies and how European consumers use them. The GSMA therefore welcomes the Commission’s announcement to review the e-Privacy Directive.

The GSMA commends efforts to harmonise data protection and privacy standards to reach the ultimate goal of connecting everyone and everything to a better future. We will continue to engage with policy makers and key stakeholders to ensure consistent privacy experiences and protections for individuals, whatever the technology they use and wherever the companies providing them are based.

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