European Data Protection Supervisor calls for coherent approach to regulation in the age of big data

Today, Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor, called for a re-engineering of regulation in the European Union in the age of big data and in light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If the actions suggested by the new EDPS opinion on  coherent enforcement of fundamental rights in the age of big data come to fruition we are going to see significant focus on the harms of big data including barriers to privacy-enhancing innovation and the hidden costs of excessive personal data disclosure.

Mr Buttarelli observed that while processing personal data is indispensable to web based services and the Digital Single Market many services have become dependent on covert tracking of individuals. Dominant companies may be able to foreclose the market to new entrants competing on factors which could benefit the rights and interests of individuals or to impose exploitative terms. Imbalances between service providers may also increase the price – in terms of personal data – disclosure far beyond what may be expected in a competitive market.

Pointing to threats posed to several fundamental rights by standards and behaviour that have become the norm in cyberspace, Mr Buttarelli called for dialogue and collaboration between consumer, competition and other regulators, updated rules on merger control to protect privacy and the even the creation of a space on the web where users could interact with a guarantee that they would not be tracked.

This is a bold and ambitious call from Europe’s top data protection supervisor but it echoes similar sentiments which were recently expressed by Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager and her acknowledgement that personal data is often the price we pay for web services and that market power can itself derive from control of large unique data sets.

Photo credit: @topgold

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