LONDON — In a couple of weeks, Europe will introduce some of the toughest online privacy rules in the world. The changes are aimed at giving internet users more control over what’s collected and shared about them, and they punish companies that don’t comply.
Here’s what it means for you.
What Are the New Rules?
On May 25, a new law called the General Data Protection Regulation goes into effect across the European Union.
The law strengthens individual privacy rights and, more important, it has teeth. Companies can be fined up to 4 percent of global revenue — equivalent to about $1.6 billion for Facebook.
The internet’s grand bargain has long been trading privacy for convenience. Businesses offer free services like email, entertainment and search, and in return they collect data and sell advertising.
But recent privacy scandals involving Facebook and the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica highlight the downsides of that trade-off. The system is opaque and ripe for abuse.
Europe is attempting to push back.
It’s too early to know how effective the law will be, but it is being closely watched by governments globally.
Will the Internet Look Different?
Supporters of the law say it will bring sweeping changes to how companies operate online, but in reality, the effect on your internet experience will be minimal. An American visiting Europe, for example, isn’t likely to see a difference.
If you live in one of the European Union’s 28 member states, there is one change you may welcome — you are likely to see fewer of those shoe or appliance ads that follow you around the internet after you do some online shopping.
As e-commerce became commonplace, a cottage industry sprang up to track people around the web and nudge them back to online stores to complete a purchase. Advertisers call these ads “fine tuned,” but most people consider them creepy, said Johnny Ryan, a researcher at PageFair, an ad-blocking service.
Mr. Ryan said the new rules would make it harder for ad-targeting companies to collect and sell information.
The new law requires companies to be transparent about how your data is handled, and to get your permission before starting to use it. It raises the legal bar that businesses must clear to target ads based on personal information like your relationship status, job or education, or your use of websites and apps.
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