For Europe, the biggest threat of the digital revolution is not confusing privacy policies. It’s not targeted advertising, or cookie tracking, or hidden opt-out buttons.
For Europe, the biggest threat of the digital revolution is failing to embrace it before it’s too late.
Businesses and consumers alike have already made the one-way migration to digital. That’s why our never-ending discussion about companies collecting too much data – and turning this too-much data into personalised advertisements, emails and recommendations – misses the point entirely.
Data-obsessed companies are so popular precisely because they embrace practices that are not popular.
Here in Europe, we have a choice to make. Do we want to accept the rules of the digital game – rules that were, whether we like it not, drafted by American and international competitors?
Or do we want to pretend that Europe is an island, a place where we can play the same game but by different rules?
Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon – each of which has come under fire in Europe for data collection and privacy – are obsessed with providing services. They care about who you are.
Sure, they care in a digital way, a data-driven way. They want to know about your cookies and purchases, not your aspirations and emotions. But these companies wouldn’t dominate the digital world if they didn’t care about their users.
To be sure, they don’t care about European notions of privacy.
Earlier this month, Mark van der Linden, a European Country Manager for American cloud storage provider Dropbox, was asked about European Commission talks to stiffen privacy rules.
“I’m a businessman and I prefer to concentrate on things we can control,” van der Linden said.
“I follow the news, I’ve seen the proposals,” he added. “What we’re doing now is focusing on what we control and the growth of the business.”
In other words, Dropbox is worrying about its 300 million users – 120 million of whom are in Europe – and not about privacy discussions that started years ago and are nowhere near finished.
And while Europe is pondering ways to slow down a multibillion-dollar company, the U.S. is likely to create another one.
Consumers already have two feet planted in the digital sphere. Sure, they grumble about the rules. They wonder if targeted ads know them a bit too well, and they are annoyed by all the emails telling them to buy stuff.
But they are embracing digital with their choices and with their money.
No doubt, this revolution can be scary. Automation is likely to crush millions of jobs. Protecting users’ data is both essential and difficult. And trust me, I’m not crazy about my image, location and voice appearing online, available to the entire world, the instant someone walks past wearing Google Glass.
Some concerns are real. We should talk about them. But while we do, let’s not try to rewrite the rules of the digital revolution.
Let’s join it.