This week in data – 30th August

Europe has been a major battleground recently for the way regulators clamp down on the use of data, especially with the oncoming General Data Protection Regulations.

But a new Politico investigation explains why a number of regulators across the continent are beginning to look at data-fuelled businesses like Facebook, Amazon and Google with a new eye…and why that might be a problem.

Italy is already investigating the use of data in enterprise-level organisations, and French antitrust regulators are probing the advertising industry. German watchdogs are looking at Facebook too, (the piece claims the Facebook-WhatsApp deal triggered new antitrust legislation there).

But the issue is that these countries need to show that businesses have used data to clamp down on consumer choice. That’s a hard sell, according to Politico – and it also raises the question of differing global approaches to this problem: Europe is concerned, but United States’ regulators don’t seem to care that much.

With big data now increasingly seen as a resource for the digital economy, the threat of upcoming lawsuits and clampdowns raises concerns about whether this type of regulation could hinder market growth.

But data being the lifeblood of business is exactly the impetus for investigations, says Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s leading antitrust regulator: “We need to understand what happens when data is the prime currency of a company”.

There are some problems: regulators need to show these businesses are stopping competitors from collecting that data, and many are labelling them as utilities like power or water. Whether that argument holds up will play out as these potentially history-making regulatory battles continue – as they potentially define the role and scope of data in the economy at large.

Also in Europe, the UK government has released a policy paper on the protection of personal data as it continues to move hand-in-hand with the EU towards the new GPDR regulations.

There’s just one hiccup: an existing law in the UK might run into trouble with some European Union regulations. The law allows for some surveillance, interception and retention – which Dr. Karen Mc Cullagh, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia’s School of Law, tells Business Review is a no-go for the new laws.

“Failure to revise the Act so that UK laws are compatible with EU laws could result in member states refusing to transfer personal data to the UK. Impeded data flows would cause harm to the UK’s economy.”

In other news:

Researchers in the United States found that the AccuWeather app, which acts as a normal weather program, started tracking location information even after users deleted it. It also sent information to a third party without informing the user.

AccuWeather has released a statement saying essentially it didn’t know what was happening, and that the problem will stop. For many users, it might just be too little too late.

Worth a read:

Alibaba is a pillar of online commerce, with 450 million active users and a treasure trove of data. The business has recently launched a marketing service – Uni Marketing – leveraging user information to profile consumers. Christine Lu, the general manager of the Uni Strategy Centre, explains in this video how Alibaba data can help businesses learn more about their customers.

Until next week.

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