Criticism of GDPR is smelly – and it’s not good

Last month, at last, the most awaited piece of media legislation in history has hit the real world. The Global Data Protection Regulation is a 2016 law but gave two long years for publishers to comply – and it was not enough, so publishers restricted or blocked European users from using to avoid the risks that possible fines could come. An outrage was expected, as accusations of privacy breach is unavoidable, but a second one, I must say, surprised me: the allegation of the GDPR as the instrument of governments to create a “Splinternet”, a Web that is not equal for everyone. It may well be an issue here, but it seems much more of a well-done work of marketing, PR and legal teams of the tech giants to demonise a step ahead to protect privacy. The democracy attackers are no longer only fat white old males pulling the strings of monopolistic corporations. Now, trendy, cool, well-educated, liberal √©lites across the Western world are helping corporations and slices of government to gnaw individual rights unceasingly.

Look at things this way: the companies affected by the GDPR are insanely wealthy. The legislation gives them far more work to do than they had before and this means less money for shareholders. In the end of the day, is the only thing that matters for a big corporation. There is a tacit agreement between the intellectual √©lite and the media to ease this elementary fact. This is opening the door for the tedious-and-almost-farcical press releases that “reinforce commitment to users”, “have the user as a priority”, or “to make easier for people to share what they love” (all phrases come from actual press releases, by the way).

Two things came as an output following the impact of GDPR. The first was the massive amount of denounces, criticism and suits against the protagonists of the digital scenario like Google and Facebook; the second one was a concern that GDPR creates, as I mentioned earlier, a “Splinternet“, where people do have different access levels to the web services and content.

Regarding the first point, it’s a no-brainer. The tech giants have lots of money, so legal actions become likely, especially if the interpretations of the law are flexible enough to pin their lawyers down. But it’s hard. Not that they don’t make infractions, quite the opposite as Facebook made clear during the Cambridge Analytica data-rape.

The second one is far more complex. The new law has been made by politicians and not by people-centric institutions, so it demands to be seen by all watchdogs with suspicion. Governments are authoritarian creatures and will do everything they can to rule freely if not stopped by external bodies using their checks and balances. So, any confrontation to the law (and governments) is not only allowed, but also healthy.

But there is a catch. You have seen all the big names in the media industry giving their views of the problem, and the criticisms were much, much more present than the welcomes to GDPR. It would be ok if the attacks were not almost all of them short-sighted (in the best case scenario). Critics did adopt sides in the story, and the party adopted was nearly only the business one and not the people.

Splinternets, publishers blocking European users and other examples didn’t mention once (at least in the articles I read) the fact that Facebook would have received the most significant fine in history for a digital company (20% of their global revenue or USD 8 billion) if the Cambridge Analytica case had happened today and that American users are pretty much for sale, much more than the European ones. The focus remained on how much money would European publishers lose, or how deranged the poor European users would be now that they have their data much more protected than before. The general feeling is that GDPR is a problem somehow and not the opposite. Keeping the users’ privacy is not as expensive as many want to make it look like – unless if you play the data game as a slaver and not a trader.

Even if the new legislation creates a lot of attrition, is obnoxious to paint it as a problem, especially if using as an argument that now Europeans are “less free”. The CA scandal showed that the condom-less digital sex time needs to be stopped for good. Since always, we know that we are tracked like rats across the web by all sorts of mechanisms, to serve us roasted to eager advertisers to eat. What wasn’t clear for everyone until now was that the companies not only draw all our profiles shamelessly but are also bizarrely careless with it. Stories much, much worse than Cambridge Analytica is mentioned in the trade by well-known and informed people but do not come up because there is no evidence. Some things are as sordid as offering to pharmaceutical companies data about users with severe illnesses with prices higher depending on the seriousness of the issue and the money the patient has available.

We should not expect any compassion. At the beginning of times, laws were created to oppress people, say how much they would pay taxes and what they could not do. Across time – and a lot of bloodshed – they became a pact between the people of a specific society that governments would enable. The European Parliament is not the house of virtue and passed through many harmful pieces of law, like the infamous Right to Be Forgotten, but we must not contaminate things. The GDPR is a necessary protection against a bigger evil, and there is not a debate possible that starts from the argument of “less freedom”. It’s a false pretext. The law needs to be challenged, but the discussion should begin the right way and without any marketing BS filling our screens as we were dumb – even if many of us are.

Photo by Infosec Images

Cassiano Gobbet

I am a journalist, interested in everything related to the equation technology + communication.