There are so many issues raised at the interface of Europe, the United States, the Facebook IPO, privacy in general, the future of the internet, the cloud, the internet of things . . . goodness, on and on it goes; the complex and fast-evolving nerve-system of 21st century knowledge engines as they interconnect people and institutions and ideas and the rest of the personal and social order. It’s not easy to speak about any without speaking of all. Perhaps we should invent the hyperlink so we can do both.
But as this story shows, some facts are plain. Europe’s forward position on privacy is leading the global policy discussion willy-nilly – that is, the lack of an integrated global conversation that can shape policy has left the field open to the most conservative major player, which happens to be based in Brussels. At the same time, as the story demonstrates, Facebook’s decision to plonk down its European HQ in Ireland (I assume for tax reasons) leaves the Irish Data Protection office with something close to veto power. The Austrian law student, whom Facebook’s European policy head is quoted as saying very nice things about, is pressing his case and reckons that even the Irish response is far from adequate.
Lessons? Well, we sure need a more adequate global discussion. We need privacy issues to be viewed by the major corporate players as keys to profitably business models and not as a nuisance. We need the idea that they seem to assume – that mi casa es su casa; once we hand over the data it’s theirs for ever – to be replaced with a far more (cliche alert) granular approach. It’s coming, but much too slowly. And I still don’t understand (help me please, Facebook and Google) why we don’t have a fee-for-service alternative in which no data gets kept or tracked at all. Since (per the Facebook filing) each user is worth remarkably little in in dollar terms, this would seem a no- brainer.
Meanwhile we note that Facebook now enables us to see all the data they have on us (in Europe they are required to put it on a hard disk in the mail), which is something.
And an Austrian law student is using Facebook’s Irish corporate registration to leverage the conversation. But hey, century 21 is all about asymmetry, no?