12:47 GMT13 August 2020
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    Ulf Pehrsson, a Vice President of Ericsson, a Swedish communication and technology company, calls European concerns about privacy an “obsession that hinders growth,” that is putting Europe at “great risk”. Existing examples of privacy being sacrificed to technology, though, paint a darker picture.

    Noting that 90 percent of global GDP growth in the next 10 years will take place outside the EU, Pehrsson says that EU will fail to compete with developing countries. However, of all things, he found a rather unexpected reason for that.

    "As it stands today, the European privacy policy development pursues only one goal — the right to privacy," he says. "But the right to privacy is a fundamental but not an absolute right, a distinction EU policymakers fail to make."

    And Pehrsson believes this is wrong.

    In an article for Politico EU, he says that current EU privacy policy affects "growth, jobs and technological advancement". Any further privacy regulation will "put Continent's future prosperity at great risk", he says.

    Unfortunately, Pehrsson does not elaborate in his essay how privacy could impede the advance of technology. There is, however, an outstanding example of how technology does affect privacy.

    In Australia, Coles and Woolworths use loyalty cards to track individual customer purchases, and send them targeted emails with special offers related to products they have previously bought, in a kind of real-life implementation of web ad services that companies like Google provide. This is considered a technologically-advanced example of future "smart cities", an environment filled with data-based technology.

    In 2013, Woolworths director of group retail services Penny Winn revealed to marketing publication AdNews that data on customer purchases in supermarkets was being cross-referenced with information collected by the company's related insurance business.

    "Because, you see, customers who drink lots of milk and eat lots of red meat are very, very good car insurance risks versus those who eat lots of pasta and rice, fill up their petrol at night, and drink spirits," she said.

    It looks like refueling at night and eating pasta makes you an unreliable insuree now. While the effect of such activities of, or lack thereof, are highly arguable, the important thing is that now companies have the way to track your activities and change how they conduct business with you, based on this information. So, if you don't want to experience monetary setbacks (in this case, more expensive insurance), you should avoid refueling at night and forget about your personal dietary preferences. Basically, you should behave exactly like some reference ideal citizen and never make any deviations whatsoever, or you'll have to suffer one form of setback or another.

    Is this "Europe's path to prosperity in the digital age" Pehrsson writes about?

    In Phersson's vision, "to strike the appropriate balance between competing fundamental rights and other goals, the [proposed] chief economist's function would ensure, in an impartial and well-balanced way, that the pursuit of fundamental rights does not negatively affect growth, jobs, and technological advancement."

    Clearly Pehrsson sees technological advancement as the "absolute" goal, while privacy in his view is, albeit "fundamental", but still less-than-absolute category that should be set aside. What kind of brave new world will Europe face with this kind of logic?


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    legislation, technology, Privacy, ericsson, ulf phersson
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