Privacy Lawsuit Highlights US - EU Differences

Reuters reported yesterday that a class action lawsuit has been filed against online data tracking service comScore Inc accused of siphoning confidential information including passwords, credit card numbers and Social Security numbers from unsuspecting users. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two plaintiffs, points out something quite troubling: comScore scans all files on unsuspecting users' personal computers and modifies security settings, among other allegations.

comScore is not the nickname of an internet scam artist, it is one of the leading companies that measures and analyzes data traffic.  Among its 1,800+ customers worldwide there are Facebook, Best Buy and Yahoo!

This is very unfortunate and maybe it would not have happened in Europe.  In fact, privacy laws have been traditionally more lenient in the US than in Europe.  In many European countries, for instance,personal information cannot be collected without consumers’ permission, and they have the right to review the data and correct inaccuracies; companies that process data must register their activities with the government; personal information cannot be shared by companies or across borders without express permission from the data subject; and so on.

All these rights stem from The European Union Directive on Data Protection of 1995, which mandated that each EU nation pass a national privacy law and create a Data Protection Authority to protect citizens' privacy and investigate attacks on it.

On the other hand, EU governments are exempted from such privacy laws.  This highlights the basic difference in attitudes between Europeans, who trust Government more than businesses, and Americans who fear Government overreach more than business activities.  In Europe, Google has been sued on the basis of privacy both for its Street View service and Buzz.  Other American companies are facing the same sort of problems for practices common in the United States.

I believe the EU Privacy regulations, as nice as they may seem on paper, put Europe and its innovators, at a competitive disadvantage.  Strict Privacy Laws in today's world, are cumbersome to businesses and can have negative effects on users: outdated services, free speech restrictions, and overall products and services improvements that may result from systematic data acquisition from companies.

I am curious to know what other Internet users think.