Three Years of Privacy Thanks to the GDPR

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Three years ago today the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was enacted in the EU to protect you from morally questionable digital surveillance, and trust me, we’re all better off for it. Essentially the GDPR stops large companies from tracking you across the web and using that information to change your behaviour. When companies are collecting data they must disclose what they are collecting and why, plus they need to ensure that the data is well protected.

The immediate success of the GDPR led other jurisdictions to follow with similar policies to protect people, including in Japan, Chilie, Kenya, and more.

Over the BBC they cheekily posted a list of the biggest offenders of the GDPR (which shows why the legislation is needed).

4. H&M (35.3m euros)

H&M was fined by German regulators in 2020 after it was found to have been secretly monitoring hundreds of its employees.

If workers took holiday or sick leave, they were required to attend a meeting with senior staff at the retail giant on their return.

These meetings were recorded, and made accessible to H&M managers without the knowledge of staff.

The data collected from the interviews was used to make a “detailed profile” of workers, which then influenced decisions concerning their employment.

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Denmark: No More Oil from the North Sea

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The largest oil producer in the European Union has banned all new oil and gas exploration in their territory. Denmark follows France and New Zealand in the banning of new exploration for destructive and climate-altering fossil fuels (who will be next?). The end of oil as a burnable resource is inevitable, and with so many developed nations banning fossil fuel cars and resource extraction the fate of oil is secured. Let’s hope we end the use of non-renewable resources even faster than planned!

Helene Hagel from Greenpeace Denmark described the parliamentary vote as “a watershed moment” that will allow the country to “assert itself as a green frontrunner and inspire other countries to end our dependence on climate-wrecking fossil fuels”.

She said: “This is a huge victory for the climate movement and all the people who have pushed for many years to make it happen.”

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Europe Bans Single Use Plastics

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Plastics last a long time before breaking down, which makes them a major problem for the natural environment. This year we’ve seen a big push to ban “single use” plastics due to the environmental damage they bring. Plastic bag bans have been implemented in reasonable places and now the European Union is doing even better: they’re banning the ridiculous use of plastics in consumer goods.

The directive targets some of the most common ocean-polluting plastics.

The list of banned items such as cutlery and cotton buds was chosen because there are readily available alternatives, such as paper straws and cardboard containers.

Other items, “where no alternative exists” will still have to be reduced by 25% in each country by 2025. Examples given include burger boxes and sandwich wrappers.

MEPs also tacked on amendments to the plans for cigarette filters, a plastic pollutant that is common litter on beaches. Cigarette makers will have to reduce the plastic by 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030.

Another ambitious target is to ensure 90% of all plastic drinks bottles are collected for recycling by 2025. Currently, bottles and their lids account for about 20% of all the sea plastic, the European Parliament report said.

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GDPR Might Make the Internet Better by Eliminating Shady Businesses

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Now that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is in effect companies are reacting. You may have noticed new messages on websites outlining that they are collecting information on you, or maybe you’ve received emails updating you on new privacy policies. Those notices are a result of the GDPR’s rules around how companies spy on you and use your data for profit. What GDPR is doing in practice is eliminating the business models of some corporations and we might all benefit from these sketchy companies going kaput.

For companies whose entire business model was users not really understanding the entire business model, the cost of direct sunlight may just be too high. Unroll.me, a company that offers to automatically declutter your in-box (while, uh, selling the insight it gleans from your data to companies like Uber), announced that it will no longer serve E.U. customers.

If enough companies follow this lead, one practical effect might be a split internet, with one set of GDPR-compliant websites and services for the E.U. and another set with a somewhat more, let’s say, relaxed attitude toward data for the rest of the world. But even a loosely enforced GDPR creates conditions for improving privacy protections beyond Europe. Facebook, for example, has already said it will extend GDPR-level protections to all of its users — if they opt in to them.

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EU Bans Bee Bashing Pesticides

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Neonicotinoids kill bees, specifically their hives, and the EU just expanded their ban on neonicotinoids to help protect the world’s dying bee populations. Back in 2013 the EU banned pesticides with neonicotinoids in them when spraying pesticides on plants and flowers that attracted bees. That meant that the deadly chemicals could still get into the ecosystem and kill hives of bees, and researchers found that the best solution to protecting bees would be an outright ban on neonicotinoids. By this end of this year the total ban will be put in place.

Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for Health and Food Safety, welcomed Friday’s vote: “The commission had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from Efsa. Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment.”

The EU decision could have global ramifications, according to Prof Nigel Raine, at the University of Guelph in Canada: “Policy makers in other jurisdictions will be paying close attention to these decisions. We rely on both farmers and pollinators for the food we eat. Pesticide regulation is a balancing act between unintended consequences of their use for non-target organisms, including pollinators, and giving farmers the tools they need to control crop pests.”

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