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Science & Technology

European Data Privacy Rules To Go Into Effect


The political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica announced this past week it's closing up shop, citing a loss of business after its alleged role in improperly harvesting the Facebook data of up to 87 million users. That closure is a victory of sorts for privacy advocates, but what's to stop the next company from doing something similar? Some point to new European data protection rules that go into effect May 25. The GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation, was designed to protect EU citizens. But because it applies to any business that has their data, it's having a worldwide impact.

Joining us to talk about the new rules and more is Matt Hancock, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport in the U.K. That's a lot. Secretary Hancock, welcome.

MATT HANCOCK: It's great to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: First, I'd like your reaction to the closure of Cambridge Analytica and its British affiliate, SCL Group.

HANCOCK: I don't mourn the loss of Cambridge Analytica. The allegations against it were very serious. And what's important is that we can continue to get to the bottom of what happened. And it is vital that its closure does not impede the investigation into the use and abuse of data by Cambridge Analytica. And we'll make sure that doesn't happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Enter the GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation, which is - could prevent something like this from happening again. I'd like to start with the basics, for our American audience.

HANCOCK: Well, the idea behind these new laws is that the data that you put into the Internet belongs to you as a citizen, and you should therefore have consent over how it's used. And that consent should be in plain, straightforward language. And the aim is to make sure that when companies use your data, you know what they're doing with it. And, crucially, that - unless they've got very good reason - if you want them to delete it, then they do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course, Facebook is one of the companies at the heart of all this. And CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the GDPR will be applied "in spirit" - we're using quotes here - to all users, not just those in the EU. But is Facebook, frankly, too big to regulate effectively?

HANCOCK: Oh, no. I don't think any company is. There's been this debate saying that, you know, we're a medium-sized country. How can we possibly have an impact on the Web as a whole because the Web is global? And I really reject that argument. I want the Internet and this new technology to work as a force for good in the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Great. But isn't Facebook a monopoly? I mean, shouldn't they possibly, as some people have suggested, be forced to split off Instagram and WhatsApp and all these other companies that make this digital behemoth? I mean, shouldn't it be regulated, in fact, more forcefully than it has been?

HANCOCK: It's an interesting question because one of the features of monopoly is normally they put prices up for their customers 'cause they're the only people who can supply the product. In this case, they're very large, but they also provide things for free. So, how you think about that is actually - is quite a difficult intellectual question.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But do they? I mean, isn't that...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: But isn't that the heart of this? I mean...

HANCOCK: Well...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Isn't it at the heart of this? I mean...

HANCOCK: No, it's a barter - right? Instead of - it's...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We're giving them our data.

HANCOCK: Yeah. Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And in return, we get the things that Facebook provides, but it's not exactly free.

HANCOCK: Well, hence the principle in the new data rules, the GDPR, saying that you have to give consent over your use of data because then they have to ask you permission for how you use the data. And there's another provision that we're bringing in, which is that under the new rules, if you want to take all your data off one platform and give it to another, that has to be very simple. So Facebook are bringing in a simple button to be able to download all of your data off Facebook. And if you want, either delete it or move it to another platform. And that will bring in a bit of competitive tension that doesn't exist at the moment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You are secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport. Media is in there, too. And let's talk briefly about Facebook and the media.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: They're certainly, some would say, a media company. Should they not be bound to the same ethics and rules?

HANCOCK: Yeah. Well, it's a - this is a - I think this is a really important question because they're not the same as a publisher. When you post on a social media platform, you immediately express your view to the world. And anybody can go on and do that. And if you therefore made them have the same rules and responsibilities and liabilities as a media company, then they wouldn't be able to exist. You know, even I...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's what they like to say.

HANCOCK: Well...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They're a platform. They're not a media company. But Facebook made $40 billion in advertising revenue last year.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is that healthy for democracy?

HANCOCK: So - exactly. So I was going to come on to that. One half of my answer is that they're not the same because, you know, even I, as a very responsible person, they would - they couldn't allow me to post or you, and I'm sure you're very responsible, too.


HANCOCK: If they were fully liable for everything you said - because if you put up something that was illegal, then they'd be liable. And therefore, they wouldn't let anybody post, and the whole social media concept would collapse. On the other hand, did they have no responsibility at all for what people post or for taking down the most egregious content? Well, they do take those responsibilities seriously because they take down, for instance, child abuse images. And so they're not full-blown publishers. But when you come to the impact they've had on the whole of the rest of the media, I think there's something in there. The old balance between having broadcasters and newspapers, there is now a third category, which is social media. And making sure that we can have a healthy political debate is one of the big challenges of our age.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the big challenges. And you, sir, are indeed the secretary in charge of this, so what is your...

HANCOCK: Yeah. Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is your solution for that?

HANCOCK: So we currently have a review out into how we pay for high-quality journalism. With newspapers, you know, in the past, the advertising on one side of the page paid for the writing and the journalism on the other. Now the advertising revenue from the adverts goes to the platform, largely, not entirely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. I mean, they basically eviscerated the business model for journalism.

HANCOCK: Yeah. Yeah. And journalism has to find a new business model. And we want to help them to do that. And we don't rule out changing the law.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think Facebook needs to pay?

HANCOCK: Well, that is a very interesting question.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hmm, and you're not answering it.


HANCOCK: Well, we're looking into these things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Secretary Matt Hancock, thank you so much.

HANCOCK: Thank you. It's been a great pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.