Have you noticed your inbox being flooded with permission requests from just about everybody that has your email address? From the internet giants to the stores where you have loyalty cards all the way to some random person in Japan who sells Hello Kitty alarm clocks on eBay, they’ve all been checking in.
Well, that last one might have been just me, unless you also thought back in 2001 that a genuine Hello Kitty alarm clock might help your sixth-grade daughter wake up in a better mood and get her butt off to school with a little less drama.
Before the flurry of inbox activity, I had vaguely heard of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), although I thought of it as ‘that internet privacy thing in Europe,’ and seeing as I don’t live in Europe, thought it had nothing to do with me.
They don’t call it the world wide web for nothing. Any internet business doing business in Europe is subject to the regulation, and since the internet is, in fact, a world wide web, that’s all of them.
At first, I thought it was kind of funny as the internet giants scurried to gather my permission, because I’ve been a little annoyed with some of them of late. So I just powered through and ignored them all.
I was a little mystified by the way some of the smaller businesses were freaking out. A month or so ago, in the ongoing attempt to improve my writing skills, I bought a series of lessons on short story writing from what seems to be a two-person operation, a writer-teacher and her boyfriend who handles the techie end of things.
Well, as the May 25 deadline for GDPR to take effect drew closer, they got crazier and crazier. Long emails detailing the changes they were making and what it would mean for their subscribers and customers arrived almost daily, until May 25 rolled around, and they completely lost their minds because their new system was not in place.
One final desperate email on the big day contained a Hail Mary at compliance and a vow to not bother anyone until they were good to go.
I thought, “Wow, you kids need to chill. How much business can you be doing in Europe? English is not even the first language for most of Europe and after Brexit, there will be even less. Calm your jets.”
Well, turns out they had good reason for their jets to be uncalm and their knickers to be in a twist. The fine for violation of GDPR is 4 percent of global revenue, which in the case of Facebook is $1.6 billion, not exactly a slap on the wrist, but in the case of my writing lesson pals, couldn’t have been that big a deal. But here’s the kicker. The fine is 4 percent of global revenue or 20 million euros, whichever is higher. That’s what I said: whichever is higher.
Which means that if you’re printing T-shirts in your basement, or perhaps supplementing your earnings as a writer by utilizing your boyfriend’s technology skills to teach a few lessons, you could find yourself owing $24.7 million, (which is the going rate for 20 million euros these days.)
No wonder my writer pal/instructor was freaking out. No one starts a side hustle intending to end up owing a foreign government $25 million.
I’ve done some research, and a few of the stories I’ve read take the tack that the big companies will be hit hardest, as I think was the intention, and others say the little guys will have the biggest problem.
An interesting provision of the regulation is that the 800-pound gorillas can’t simply say, “These are our terms, take ‘em or leave ‘em.” They have to actually follow the rules. Facebook says they have complied, and not just in Europe but worldwide.
Not sure if I believe that, due to recent developments with Facebook, but you make up your own mind.
Max Schrems doesn’t believe it either, apparently. He’s a prominent Australian privacy campaigner who has filed three lawsuits involving Facebook and its subsidiaries, WhatsApp and Instagram for a grand total of 3.9 billion euros. For good measure, he’s suing Google for 3.7 billion euros over its Android operating system. The cases have been filed in four different countries across Europe as the GDPR no longer requires them to be filed in the country where the company is headquartered, according to Investopedia.
So far, my writing coach hasn’t mentioned any lawsuits, but even so, I think this is probably going to play out worse for the little guys. Facebook and Google can afford to hire the graduating class of every single one of the Ivy League law schools if they need to, but one $24.7 million dollar fine is going to be curtains for just about any home business.
But the thing about this whole situation that fascinates me most has gotten very little play. Last time I looked, I didn’t live in Europe. Of that, I am positive. So why is a European regulation affecting my life? And I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts my writing coach pal and her techie boyfriend are asking themselves that very same question through their all-night sessions to save their business and avoid multi-million dollar fines.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the regulation is a good idea (save the draconian “whichever is higher” part). Being subject to the regulation of another country, or group of countries, as the case may be, feels wrong, and makes one wonder where things are headed.
As Americans, we’re not used to that. We’re usually the ones inflicting our will on other countries, not the other way around. I must say it’s a little disconcerting when the shoe is on the other foot.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.