World and Nation

Firms brace for new European data privacy law

BERLIN — The effort in Europe to adopt the world’s strongest data protection law has drawn the attention of dozens of lobbyists from U.S. technology and advertising companies.

Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon and IBM, individually and through industry groups, have all sought to actively participate in a legislative process that could give half a billion consumers the right to withhold basic personal details while using the Web, putting a major crimp in the financial model that makes those business run.

On Monday, their European counterparts showed up in force at a conference in Berlin to discuss the potential law, which is expected to come to a vote sometime next year. Representatives from European Aeronautic Defence & Space, BMW, Daimler and Rovio Entertainment, the creator of mobile apps like Angry Birds, filled a hotel meeting room and tried to figure out how new rules would affect them.

Even nontech companies like UBS, the Swiss bank, were among the 70 attendees at the Pullman Hotel Scheizerhof near the Tiergarten central park, as the new regulations are expected to affect virtually every type of business.

The effort to create strict new online privacy protections in Europe is motivated by a desire to rein in the data use of social media companies like Google and Facebook, said Ian Walden, a professor of information and communications law at the University of London and a speaker at the conference.

“But the problem is this proposal is going to create a whole new layer of regulation for the vast majority of businesses that have nothing to do with social media,” he said. “They are going to see their compliance loads increase greatly with very little benefit.”

The measures would prohibit the use of a range of standard Web tracking and profiling practices that companies use to produce targeted advertising, unless consumers gave their explicit prior consent. The bill would also grant European consumers a fundamental new right: data portability, or the right to easily transfer an individual’s posts, photographs and video from one online service site to another.

The measures, as well as the creation of an EU-wide data privacy regulator, were originally proposed last year by Viviane Reding, the European justice commissioner.

They are now contained in a bill sponsored by Jan Philipp Albrecht, a member of the European Parliament from Hanover. But the fate of the bill, meant to revise an 18-year-old statute, remains murky.