Good morning. David Meyer here, filling in for Alan from Berlin.
Yesterday the EU’s much-feared General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) truly bit for the first time. Wielding the new law, the French privacy regulator slapped Google with a $57 million fine for the way it railroads people into “consenting” to having their data processed, for advertising purposes, when they set up an account.
Google was not transparent about the way it would use the data, said the watchdog, CNIL, as it spread that information over multiple documents. Much of the information was also “too generic and vague,” so the consent people ended up giving Google was neither “specific” nor “unambiguous” — the GDPR requires it to be both. Google therefore didn’t have a legal basis for its data-processing.
The fine was certainly a record-breaker — in the eight months since the GDPR took effect, the previous record was around $450,000 — but is it really enough to hurt Google? Given that Google’s annual revenues exceed $100 billion, that’s the question a lot of people have been asking. But they risk missing the point of the privacy regulation in several ways.
The GDPR is all about changing the behavior of companies that trample over Europeans’ fundamental privacy rights, and the initial fine is just part of the toolkit it gives regulators. The target still needs to fix the problem — if they don’t, regulators have the nuclear option of ordering them to stop transferring data out of the EU.
On top of that, the further the situation escalates, the more reputational damage the company will suffer. As the GDPR allows people to claim compensation for their rights being violated — with a threshold of proof that’s way lower than in the U.S. — the costs can rack up quickly.
Remember too that this is just one investigation. If people complain again, that can mean further fines. Also yesterday, the Swedish data protection authority opened a new GDPR investigation into Google over the way it collects and uses Android users’ location data.
Ultimately, CNIL could have fined Google billions — the maximum fine under the GDPR is 4% of global annual revenue. But this wasn’t the end of the matter. This was a warning shot. And it’s not just Google that should be taking it seriously.
More news below.
Asian and European markets slid today, and U.S. futures are in the red, too. The cause can be found in the IMF’s lowered forecast for global growth—yesterday the fund said it expected 3.5% this year and 3.6% next year, which is respectively down by 0.2 and 0.1 percentage points from earlier forecasts. CNBC
Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. said the latter country still intends to push for the extradition of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested in Canada last month over alleged sanctions-busting. China warned both countries that it will “take action” in response. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying: “Everyone has to be held responsible for their own actions. Both the U.S. and Canada should be aware of the seriousness of the case and take steps to rectify the mistake.” South China Morning Post
Carlos Ghosn’s offer to wear a tag and surrender his passports fell on deaf ears. The Tokyo District Court rejected the former Nissan chief’s bail request again yesterday, so Ghosn is going to remain behind bars until his trial begins, in March at the earliest. Wall Street Journal
Paul Whelan, the American who was arrested in Moscow on suspicion of espionage, has lost his bid to appeal his arrest. In a closed hearing, prosecutors reportedly claimed he had “obtained a USB device containing a classified list of personnel at one of Russia’s state intelligence organizations.” Meduza
Around the Water Cooler
Greenland ice is melting much faster than previously thought, and scientists are effectively warning against buying coastal property. Geodynamics professor Michael Bevis: “The only thing we can do is adapt and mitigate further global warming—it’s too late for there to be no effect. This is going to cause additional sea level rise. We are watching the ice sheet hit a tipping point.” CNN
Yet more evidence, if it were needed, that the mobile industry is in recession: Dixons Carphone, the big U.K. electrical goods chain, said mobile sales were down 7% in the 10 weeks leading up to January 5th. BBC
One previous pointer to the mobile industry’s woes was the reportedly early laying-off of 50,000 contract workers by iPhone-assembler Foxconn in the last quarter of 2018. But now Foxconn (more properly known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd.) says it’s trying to recruit for 50,000 new positions in Q1 of this year. Reuters
Is China really able to start rivalling the likes of Samsung and Intel in the chip-making stakes? Not according to semiconductor analysts, who reckons China’s chipset manufacturers are as much as a decade behind their international counterparts, despite Beijing’s enthusiastic backing. Financial Times