EFF Calls for Stronger Privacy Laws Following Twitter Policy Change

After Twitter users received a cryptic message about keeping Twitter free, the EFF spotted the change and is calling for stronger privacy laws.

For Twitter users, earlier this month, you probably got a rather cryptic message from Twitter itself. The message said something along the lines of how information is shared with business partners and that the changes were needed to keep Twitter free. For most users, they probably just said “OK” and continued without a second thought. For the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), that raised a red flag for them. So, they did some investigating.

As it turns out, Twitter users used to have an option that opted them out of information tracking. That little change that whisked past their screen is actually about the removal of that option. Now, you no longer have that option – that is, unless you live in a GDPR country. In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation forces companies to require user consent before personal information is collected. So, for European Twitter users, nothing will change. For everyone outside of those countries, tough luck, you’re getting tracked by Twitters third party analytics and conversion ad tracking.

The differences is quite stark. It also leads to the conclusion that stronger privacy laws do, in fact, better protect users. The EFF offered this conclusion to this whole ordeal:

Today, users in Europe maintain the same agency and control over their personal data that they’ve always had. They get to decide whether advertisers can use Twitter’s ad tools to tie actions on Twitter to device identifiers. Everyone else has lost that right.

The reason is simple: European users are protected by GDPR. Users in the United States and everywhere else, who don’t have the protection of a comprehensive privacy law, are only protected by companies’ self-interest. All too often, Twitter, Google, and Facebook will give users only as much control as they think they need to in order to stave off regulation and competitors, but no more. When push comes to shove, they’ll protect their bottom line.

This is why it shouldn’t be up to tech companies to give us privacy. We need strong data privacy laws that protect users’ rights to privacy, access, and control. And we need to change a system that tempts companies to sell out their users for a few points of growth.

For some commentators, there is a strong belief that the market will somehow decide these things. So, often, they conclude that stronger privacy laws aren’t necessary and that the government will just screw them up anyway if they tried. For us, we see the results of “just letting the private sector decide”. After reporting on countless breaches and leaks, the most civilian victims ever get are a couple of class action lawsuits which may or may not pay for possible losses experienced in identity theft. In fact, at most, consumers tend to get free credit monitoring for a period of time and that’s it.

Meanwhile, in European countries, you not only have government regulation mandating investigations, but also the requirement to report to authorities as well. Hiding a data breach or leak subjects companies to very stiff penalties. Is it a cure-all approach? No, a problem of this magnitude not only requires strong laws, but also time. Still, Europeans are seeing moves in the right direction to solving the problem of personal information constantly making their way into the hands of data thieves all too happy to make a quick buck off of them. In the US and Canada, business as usual is just to look at a breach or a leak and say, “Oops” and move on. Not exactly an inspiring solution to such a widespread problem.

Still, if some observers look at the problem of leaks and breaches and still say that we don’t need laws to help solve the problem, this latest example with Twitter changing up what users can opt out should be yet another reason why government intervention is needed. How many more examples do we need before we start moving forward with strong European style privacy laws anyway?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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