The Hypocrisy of Privacy Activism: Europe’s Double Standard and the Future of Privacy and Digital Freedom

By Amandeep Midha, Nerd9, India

July 4, 2023

Have you heard of countless privacy activists relentlessly raising concerns about Google Analytics? The answer is undoubtedly yes. But have you ever come across a so-called privacy champion who dares to raise a voice against the government’s deployment of invasive surveillance software tools  like Palantir, Pegasus, Blue Coat, and Cellebrite? The likelihood is slim to none.

This raises an important question: Do the privacy champions who make noise about businesses’ use of Google Analytics conveniently ignore the exponentially booming sales of these powerful surveillance tools? This article aims to shed light on the hypocrisy of privacy champions and the double standard in Europe’s data privacy directives, exposing their bias against private businesses while turning a blind eye to government surveillance practices.

The Illusion of Schrems II:

One of the cornerstones of Europe’s data privacy regulations is the Schrems II ruling, which aims to protect the rights of individuals and their personal data. In theory, this ruling appears robust and consumer-friendly. However, in practice, it has been met with skepticism and has failed to deliver tangible benefits to end consumers. While it claims to safeguard privacy, it has created a labyrinth of complexities for businesses, resulting in increased costs, regulatory burdens, and limited innovation. The original voices of consumers can easily get lost in this noise, drowning out their opinions and preferences. 

While launching and running business in the digital age comes already with its own share of complexities, organizations are now required to invest significant resources to ensure they adhere to the ruling’s stringent requirements, including conducting comprehensive assessments of data transfers and establishing appropriate safeguards. These compliance & financial burdens can disproportionately affect smaller businesses and startups, hindering their ability to compete and innovate in the market

But how many have actually asked this question of collecting and handling of their data to their municipality or local government?

The Lost Voice of End Consumers

Amidst the noise of privacy activists and compliance enthusiasts, the authentic voices of end consumers often go unheard. While privacy champions argue against targeted advertising and data-driven personalization, they fail to recognize that some consumers appreciate and value these features. Targeted advertisements can provide relevant and useful information, enhancing the consumer experience and saving time. By disregarding the diverse perspectives of end consumers, privacy activists risk undermining the very individuals they claim to protect.

The Directive Double Standards between Business & Government handling of Private Data

One glaring example of the double standard in Europe’s data privacy directives is the treatment of private businesses versus government entities. While stringent regulations and heavy compliance burdens are imposed on businesses, municipalities, and nation states are given more leeway to hoard as much private data as they want. This creates an unfair playing field where businesses are scrutinised and penalised, while government surveillance activities remain largely unchecked. The one-sided approach not only undermines the credibility of privacy champions but also perpetuates a system of hypocrisy and double standards.

Hard Impact on Small Digital Businesses struggling to Comply

The implications of stringent data privacy measures extend beyond individuals and significantly impact businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). While privacy regulations are intended to protect consumer information, they often place a disproportionate burden on businesses, hindering their growth and stifling innovation. Here are some key points illustrating the challenges faced by businesses due to data privacy regulations:

i) Compliance Costs: Small businesses often lack the resources and infrastructure necessary to navigate complex privacy regulations. The costs associated with implementing and maintaining compliance can be substantial, diverting funds and attention away from other critical business activities. Compliance becomes especially burdensome for SMEs, whose limited budgets may be stretched thin by compliance-related expenses.

ii) Competitive Disadvantage: Large corporations with substantial resources and dedicated legal departments are better equipped to handle the costs and complexities of data privacy compliance. This creates an uneven playing field, as SMEs struggle to keep up with the stringent requirements. As a result, smaller businesses may face a competitive disadvantage in the market, limiting their ability to grow and thrive.

iii) Limited Access to Data: Privacy regulations often restrict the collection and use of consumer data, making it more challenging for businesses, especially startups, to gather valuable insights about their target audience. Data-driven decision-making, personalised marketing, and product innovation become constrained, hindering the ability to provide tailored and relevant experiences to customers.

iv) Reduced Advertising Effectiveness: Social media platforms and online advertising have become essential tools for businesses to reach their target audiences. However, stringent data privacy regulations can limit the availability and accuracy of consumer data that businesses rely on for effective targeting. As a result, businesses may struggle to reach their desired customer base, leading to reduced advertising effectiveness and potentially hampering their growth.

v) Innovation Constraints: The stringent privacy landscape may discourage entrepreneurial endeavours and technological advancements. Startups and innovative companies often rely on data-driven insights to develop new products and services. However, privacy regulations can create barriers, stifling innovation and inhibiting the emergence of groundbreaking ideas that could benefit society as a whole.

In light of these challenges, it is worth considering the comparative costs and benefits of data privacy enforcement on private businesses in society. While such privacy regulations aim to protect individuals, the impact on businesses, particularly smaller ones, cannot be ignored. The costs incurred by businesses to comply with regulations may outweigh the benefits in certain cases. Striking a balance between protecting individual privacy and fostering an environment that supports business growth and innovation is crucial.

The Threat of Digital Isolation

The impact of Europe’s data privacy regulations is already evident in the shifting dynamics of the global digital consumer market. As businesses face mounting challenges and compliance costs in Europe, they may opt to prioritize markets with more favourable conditions. Countries with less restrictive data privacy regulations, such as the United States, China, and emerging markets, are attracting digital investments and experiencing rapid growth. This exodus of businesses from Europe’s digital market can lead to a decline in innovation, job creation, and economic growth, further exacerbating the continent’s isolation in the digital world.

Amidst this double standard and the growing scrutiny on private businesses, Europe faces the looming threat of isolating itself in the digital realm. While other markets around the world experience exponential growth in the digital consumer space, Europe risks fading away as a significant player in the new world order. The stringent regulations and compliance burdens imposed on businesses, coupled with the lack of accountability for government surveillance practices, create an environment where innovation is stifled, and businesses may reconsider Europe as a viable market. The unintended consequence of Europe’s directive double standard could be its digital isolation, leading to a loss of economic opportunities and influence on the global stage.

The Hoax of Privacy Promise by Majority of Crypto and Web3 Ventures

The landscape of privacy in the digital age is undergoing a worrisome transformation. Politicians say one thing and ask the privacy champions and  technocrats to implement the opposite. Once hailed as champions of privacy and anonymity, many Crypto and Web3 ventures have taken a disheartening turn, prioritising compliance and enabling greater state visibility and control over digital money. The individuals behind these enterprises, once seen as advocates for peer-to-peer currency, are now engaged in a race to demonstrate compliance, providing governments with unprecedented access to financial transactions. This paradox raises fundamental questions about the true intentions of these ventures and challenges the very notion of privacy in the digital realm.

These ventures, once seen as beacons of empowerment and guardians of digital rights, have chosen to prioritise government demands, undermining the core principles of decentralisation and user sovereignty. By surrendering to government overreach, they have not only betrayed the trust of their users but also sacrificed the fundamental values that underpin the Crypto and Web3 movement. This alarming shift serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for unwavering dedication to privacy and the development of robust, censorship-resistant technologies that genuinely prioritise individual freedom in the digital realm. 

As the privacy landscape continues to evolve, it is crucial to scrutinise the motivations and actions of Crypto and Web3 ventures. Users must remain vigilant and demand transparency, accountability, and an unwavering commitment to privacy. Only by challenging the status quo and supporting ventures that prioritise individual autonomy and data sovereignty can we reclaim the true essence of privacy in the digital age. It is time to unveil the illusion and foster a new era where privacy is not compromised but embraced as a fundamental human right.

Ask Yourself – What Kind of Future?

As we navigate the complex landscape of data privacy and control, it is crucial to pause and reflect on the underlying motivations behind the push for more control over individuals and businesses. It begs the question: What kind of person would actively seek greater control over others?

In envisioning the future of society, it is important to consider whether we want to fill it with an abundance of preachers and controllers or foster an environment that nurtures makers and doers. The path we choose will have profound implications for the direction in which our society evolves.

While it is important to ensure responsible data practices and protect individuals’ privacy, we must also be cautious not to veer into a realm of excessive control that stifles innovation, impedes progress, and limits the freedom of individuals and businesses to shape the future. The focus should be on fostering a collaborative and empowering environment that encourages creativity, entrepreneurship, and the pursuit of new ideas.

By encouraging a diverse array of voices and perspectives, we can create a society where innovation and progress thrive. It is through the collective efforts of makers and doers that we can build a future that embraces both privacy and individual autonomy, while also fostering a dynamic and forward-thinking society.

The Future of Privacy and Digital Freedom:

The hypocrisy of privacy champions is evident in Europe’s directive double standard, where private businesses are heavily regulated while government surveillance practices, spendings, and hoarding of private data remain unchecked. A society where governments have extensive surveillance capabilities while businesses are burdened with stringent privacy requirements sounds even more unsettling than a society depicted in the novel ‘1984’. This biassed approach not only undermines the credibility of prevalent privacy activism but also threatens Europe’s position in the global digital landscape. The continent risks isolating itself and fading away as a significant consumer market in the new world order, while other regions experience exponential growth and attract digital investments. It is crucial to acknowledge the need for privacy protection while also recognizing the potential negative consequences of overregulation. Striking a balance between privacy and innovation is key to fostering a thriving digital ecosystem. Europe must reevaluate its approach to data privacy regulations, encouraging responsible data practices without stifling businesses or compromising individual freedom. By embracing a more inclusive and transparent framework that encompasses both private businesses and government entities, Europe can restore trust, encourage innovation, and regain its position as a global leader in the digital age.