The GDPR is Coming

A very American icon for a very European law

The GDPR is coming, the GDPR is coming. At a recent offsite leadership meeting I attended with the business unit I support, I was dubbed Mr. GDPR. They all knew it was coming and because I am their lawyer, I became their GDPR guy.

To be honest, I am no GDPR expert and certainly don’t want to become one. I have these really great privacy lawyers who sit next to me. They answers my questions but more importantly help steer our company in the right direction to make sure that data privacy is one of the key value propositions we offer our customers.

Because the GDPR is coming, it is worth saying something about it here. Today I read eMarketer’s Western European Digital Trends for 2018 which gave an excellent summary of how the new law will affect companies and consumers:

GDPR requires that any entity collecting or handling consumers’ personal data must know how and where those processes take place, what data is kept, where it is kept, where it goes if it is distributed further, and how data integrity is preserved at every point where that entity is responsible—and be prepared to divulge those details. The rules also require digital devices and browsers to make consumers aware that their data is about to be collected, and let users make a single decision about how their data can be gathered and handled, which all companies, websites and apps must adhere to. Individuals will be able to refuse any entity access to their personal data. Individuals will also be empowered to access, manage and delete their personal data held in digital databases. Firms failing to comply face a fine of €20 million ($22.1 million) or up to 4% of global revenues, whichever is greater.

In a December 2017 blog post, Jean-Michel Franco, senior director of product marketing at Talend, wrote that “the stakes go well beyond regulatory compliance. In this data-driven world, trust has become the new currency. Now that insights and innovations depend on big data, there’s no option but to have total control [over] your data, otherwise, your customer won’t buy in. … Most of the privacy rules that come with GDPR were already expressed in former regulations, but the principle of accountability makes it game-changing.”

This will likely pose a challenge to companies like Google and Facebook who want you to give it away when using their platform. I mean give it all away: your photos, your posts, your instant messages with very limited ability to opt-out without having to forgo using the entire platform. This is from an article on how the GDPR will disrupt Google and Facebook from last summer:

Google and Facebook cannot confront their users with broad, non-specific, consent requests that cover the entire breadth of their activities. Data protection regulators across the EU have made clear what they expect:

“A purpose that is vague or general, such as for instance ‘Improving users’ experience’, ‘marketing purposes’, or ‘future research’ will – without further detail – usually not meet the criteria of being ‘specific’”.

A business cannot, for example, collect more data for a purpose than it needs and then retroactively ask to use those data for additional purposes.[4]

It will be necessary to ask for consent, or present an opt-out choice, at different times, and for different things. This creates varying levels of risk. We estimate these risks on the “GDPR scale”, shown below.


The scale ranges from zero to five. Five, at the high end of the scale, describes the circumstances that many adtech companies that have no direct relationship with Internet users will find themselves in. They need to get the consent of the people whose data they rely on. But they have no channel of communication through which they can do so.

Four, next highest on the scale, refers to companies that have direct relationships with users, and can use this to ask for consent. However, users have little incentive to “opt-in” to being tracked for advertising. Whereas a user might opt-in to some form of profiling that comes with tangible benefits, such as a loyalty scheme, the same user might not be willing to opt-in to more extensive profiling that yields no benefit. The extensiveness of the profiling is important because, as the note at the bottom of this page shows, users will be aware of the uses of their data when consent is sought. Thus adtech tracking across the web might rank as four, but a loyalty scheme might rank as three on the GDPR scale.

A slightly more attractive prospect, from Google and Facebook’s perspective, is to inform a user about what they want to do with the personal data, and give the user a chance to “opt-out” beforehand.[5] This is two on the scale. This opt-out approach has the benefit – from the company’s perspective – that some users’ inaction may allow their data to be used. The GDPR permits the opt-out approach when the purposes that the companies want to use the data for are “compatible” with the original purpose for which personal data were shared by users. In addition to the opt-out notice, users also have to be told of their right to object at any time to the use of their data for direct marketing.

One on the scale refers to activities that currently involve the processing of personal data, but that do not need to do so. With modification, these activities could be put beyond the scope of the Regulation.

Activities at the zero end of the scale are outside the scope of the Regulation, because they use no personal data.

The more I think about it, the more I see the GDPR posing a problem for a Blockchain’s permanent, irreversible and inerasable ledger whenever any personal data (even when encrypted) is included in a node. Individuals will have the right to delete their data and be forgotten. If one of the values of Blockchain technology is that no one person or entity can modify a node, then the Blockchain will need to modify its architecture and governance to allow for such node modification. And if it is a public Blockchain with no centralized intermediation, then who is the data controller? And who will be able to delete your data upon your request and protect your rights? Will each miner become a data controller, potentially subject to fines?


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