Unintended Consequences

Image by Rob Pongsajapan

There are many great summaries of the new European Commission framework on data protection (see Details of EU Data Protection Reform Reveal Dramatic Proposed Changes by Bret Cohen or European Commission Publishes New Framework on Data Protection by the IAPP Staff)  But the most interesting article I have read on the topic was published by Jane Yakowitz and titled "More Crap From the E.U."  

Jane digs into the proposals and counters some of the common assumptions about the E.U. better protecting consumer privacy. I recommend reading her article but I will highlight two points she made that are worth thinking about.

  1. Article 17 and the Right to be Forgotten 
    1. Generally, the right to be forgotten covers all publications of personal information and it will give E.U. residents a right to control and delete their personal information. While this right is somewhat limited by an exception for information necessary for historical, statistical and scientific research purposes, Jane points out that this ability to delete data crushes the value of personal information for E.U. residents which may reduce their ability to participate in the free-services-for-information business model that currently flourishes on the Internet. 
  2. Articles 19 and 20 and the Right to Object to Automated Processing
    1. This will give E.U. residents the ability to opt out of profile creation by means of automated processing. Jane sees two possible unintended implications of opting out: 1) it labels the E.U. residents opting out as a risk and/or 2) predictive models become skewed when E.U. residents opt out and it decrease the efficiency of credit markets and other markets that rely on automated profiles to determine risk. 

Overall, every attempt to regulate will lead to unintended consequences and it is only by looking at the effects in the aggregate that the value of regulation can be understood. That said, I think it's important to bring the unintended consequences to light because it would be a shame to stunt the information economy in an attempt to promote it.

For some additional reading see: