EU official compares internet platforms that collect user data to ‘sweatshops’

The European Union’s top data watchdog likened internet platforms that collect user data to “sweatshops” that “[farm] people for their attention,” as the tech industry prepares for stringent new privacy laws set to go into effect in Europe later this month.

Giovanni Buttarelli, the European data protection supervisor, published a blog post on Monday arguing that companies that rely on data collection will have to undergo “a change of culture” in order to fully comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will be implemented on May 25.

“Brilliant lawyers will always be able to fashion ingenious arguments to justify almost any practice,” Buttarelli wrote. “But with personal data processing we need to move to a different model. The old approach is broken and unsustainable – that will be, in my view, the abiding lesson of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica case.”


The regulator also said internet platforms were like “sweatshops,” accusing them of exploiting users “for their attention, ideas and data in exchange for so called ‘free’ services.”

Tech companies have been scrambling for months to bring themselves into line with the new privacy regime. Facebook, under fire over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, has promised to offer controls required under the law to all of its users around the world.

The GDPR will require websites to be more transparent about their data collection practices and offer their users better controls over how companies can use their personal information.

Under the new law, users must be able to use a site even if they choose to opt out of data collection practices that are not necessary for the site’s service.

Buttarelli suggested that some of the recently announced changes put forth by tech giants fall short of complying with the spirit of the GDPR. He also blasted their business models and accused the companies of being unaccountable.

“The most recent scandal has served to expose a broken and unbalanced ecosystem reliant on unscrupulous personal data collection and micro-targeting for whatever purposes promise to generate clicks and revenues,” the blog post reads. “In such a distorted environment everyone must now participate, instilling the paradoxical sense of being more and more monitored and yet less and less known and respected by the small number of remote tech powers.”

Tags Facebook General Data Protection Regulation Internet privacy Privacy

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