Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple face stalwart privacy decisions pipeline in the EU

Thuranira John Kobia Last updated: February 28, 2021
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  • EU’s privacy regulator aims at making big tech enforcement decisions this year.
  • Big tech companies face antitrust lawsuits and pay hefty fines when found liable in the EU region.
  • Privacy activists are pushing authorities to make swift decisions involving tech companies.

The European Union’s privacy regulator expects to streamline its enforcement against big tech companies. It aims at making big decisions this year while refuting any reluctance claims. The regulator – overseeing Facebook Inc., Apple Inc., and Alphabet Inc.’s Google has pointed out that they are on track to addressing multiple privacy cases.

The leader of Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, Hellen Dixon, has recently hinted that her office will make more draft decisions this year.

She added that the data commission would have nearly half of pending privacy cases involving big tech companies settled in the course of the year.

According to Dixon, the pipeline is steady – and on track to build terms of settling these claims. Ms. Dixon is among the world’s known privacy regulators. She leads a data commission team mandated with enforcing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The commission regulates companies with their regional headquarters in Ireland.

Multiple privacy cases on Ms. Dixon’s desk

In an interview, Ms. Dixon stated that her desk is full of numerous cases involving big tech companies.

Two cases involve Facebook—one of the leading social networking services globally. Additionally, there are other five privacy cases—one linked to Google and four involving Facebook subsidiaries – are on her desk.

According to her, most of the cases are on the verge of being settled. The final report will then be submitted to these companies for feedbacks or comments.

The commission submitted a draft decision to WhatsApp, one of the top Facebook subsidiaries, in December. The company sent back various objections, and the commission is considering the same. Ms. Dixon said they expect to deliver a final decision in the coming few months.

Big tech companies face harsh antitrust lawsuits

Google spokesman acknowledged the firm received Ireland’s investigation report. More so, the company will continue to cooperate until the matter is settled. On the other hand, Facebook remained mum regarding its cases.

Google and Facebook face even more antitrust lawsuits. The U.S. federal and state officials filed privacy cases involving the two companies. Amazon and Apple are also facing antitrust lawsuits in the EU. At the same time, more questions arise about the usage of data by tech companies.

The GDPR recommends fines paid by these companies when found liable. For instance, Twitter Inc. settled a $547,000 fine in December 2020 with related privacy cases. However, some EU regions, such as France’s privacy regulator, fine significant amount. The CNIL, France’s privacy regulator, used a different law called the ePrivacy directive and fined Google and Amazon.com Inc. a total of $163m.

Pressure mounting for Ms. Dixon from privacy activists

Ms. Dixon has received mounting pressure about making swift decisions involving tech companies in Ireland. Yet, she insists such cases often take longer because they involve various aspects. These include complex laws and time given to companies to practice their legal rights.

She said privacy cases have unrealistic expectations due to their nature. Hence, it becomes hard to conclude them faster. Besides, Ireland’s draft decisions must be reviewed and finalized with other EU privacy regulators for all cross-border cases. This is detailed in the GDPR’s power-sharing rules.

For instance, the Twitter case took up to half a year before the final decision was made. More significant fines are also a concern with the policy coming to Ireland. Ms. Dixon highlighted such situations to defend the commission against privacy activists’ claims.

Facebook appeals suspending sending some user data to its American servers

On the other hand, Ms. Dixon’s desk is also on a separate battle with Facebook. The commission is yet to decide if the social network should continue to send its EU’s user data to its U.S. servers.

The legal order to the company required Facebook to suspend sending its data to the servers. This aims to prevent U.S. surveillance. But Facebook has continued to appeal and reverse this order.

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Thuranira is a privacy expert who is always excited about security empowerment through technology.

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