BAILEY T. STEEN | WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2018
Silicon Valley are facing yet another disastrous privacy scandal. Last week, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) decided to officially launch a investigation into Twitter’s alleged tracking of its own users through their special shortened t.co links, which could potentially violate protections under Irish and EU laws and cost Twitter millions in damages.
According to Fortune, the social media giant is suspected of “obtaining information when people click on t.co links” which “track people as they surf the web by leaving cookies in their browsers”. This was the analysis of privacy researcher Michael Veale (University College London), the man who directly requested information on these links from Twitter, as is his right under the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws. However, the social media company rejected his claim because it would apparently take too much effort to compile the entitled data.
Given that Twitter just casually refused to honour his fundamental human right to data access, Veale took the complaint up with the DPC in August. This eventually lead to the investigation opened last Thursday. “The DPC has initiated a formal statutory inquiry in respect of the complaint,” the commission declared. “The inquiry will examine whether or not Twitter has discharged its obligations in connection with the subject matter of the complaint and determine whether or not any provisions of the GDPR or the [Irish Data Protection] Act have been contravened by Twitter in this respect.”
The regulator went on to suggest the investigation will be handed off to the newly organised European Data Protection Board, a multi-national data protection group that specifically enforce GDPR protections for EU citizens, due to Veale’s complaint “involving cross-border processing.” The magazine note this will be the first GDPR investigation facing Twitter, echoing the similar Facebook probes made when their refusal to hand over user data to their customers lead to a lawsuit that could cost the company €3.9 billion.
Twitter, of course, declined to comment on the investigation. Companies tend to face fines upwards of €20 million ($23.2 million) or up to 4% of global annual revenue, if found violating GDPR protections like data access requests. Fortune estimate that Twitter’s 2017 revenues totalled around $2.4 billion, meaning their own GDPR fine could be $96 million if the investigation shows to have merit. This could be a serious outcome for a company’s incompetence when it comes to data privacy, particularly when it comes to shortened URL links initially designed so tweets don’t exceed the 280 character limit. Whether it results in a fine is up for speculation, though such investigations could force the hand of Twitter to honour the rights of users in the future.
The European Union, despite all the faults that come with a multi-national super state, appear the only ones who care about the preservation of online rights. Big tech monopolies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, notorious as being the usual suspects in online censorship and privacy violations, show the need for defined liberties and entitlements the users deserve.
Outside of Europe, who leave these rights to common bureaucratic regulators, there are no serious checks and balances to tyrannical tech in the United States. Other than the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who continue to give slaps on the wrist to complaints while ignoring others, Americans have little means of ensuring their complaints can see a meaningful response. Perhaps these GDPR rules should be the basis of some form of new bill of rights for the internet age, as proposed by Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, representing California’s 17th district of South San Francisco Bay, which is quite literally the heart of elitist Silicon Valley.
“It could bring some control to the Wild West of the third parties operating on these platforms,” said Karen Kornbluh, senior fellow for digital policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, according to Vox. “I think it’s fair to say Europe is leading global policy on privacy and data protection, and they’re doing it at a time when they see the US system has been severely deficient,” added Bill Kovacic, Commissioner for the FTC. “The [tech] policymaking capital is not Washington, it’s Brussels.”
Thanks for reading! Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, designer and film critic residing in the heart of Victoria, Australia. His articles have been published on TrigTent, Medium, Steemit and Janks Reviews. For updates, follow @atheist_cvnt on either Twitter, Instagram or Gab.Ai, while you can contact him for personal or business reasons directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers, darlings. 💋