In Europe, there is an increased value of privacy protection for consumers. The European Union has instated a law that "gives citizens back their control over their personal data." In the EU, data can only be gathered under strict conditions for a legitimate purpose. Citizens have the right to complain and take legal action when their data is used unfairly. Websites are required to have a notice at the top of the webpage when they will be using cookies, and consumers can choose whether to accept or reject the webpage from gathering data. The European Union has created a Right to Be Forgotten law that says Google must allow citizens to ask for their personal information to be removed from search results, otherwise they will not allow the company to operate in Europe.
The following is a video from the European Commission's webpage on data protection:
Would these types of laws work in the United States? Probably not. There is already so much data out there free for businesses to access, and the datasets are growing rapidly. Freedoms of speech and press, which go hand in hand with access to information, are held at higher value than privacy protection in the U.S. Restricting information gathering can inhibit innovation and create a chilling effect for companies to create new things or use the data for good.
"If we give undue credence to hypothetical harms, we risk distracting ourselves from genuine harms and discouraging the development of the very tools that promise new benefits to low income, disadvantaged, and vulnerable individuals." - Maureen K. Ohlhausen, FTC Commissioner
But, how can we ensure that the data is in fact being used for good and that citizens' rights are being protected? We can demand of companies that they ensure that their data is representative and accounts for biases. We can stand up when companies' reliance on big data creates ethical or fairness concerns, and we can refuse to support companies that use our data unfairly.
Although the exact laws that exist in Europe may not be successful here, maybe the United States could create a law that requires websites to inform consumers when they are using cookies to gather data. This way, if consumers disagree with the practice, they can opt out. Although this would likely limit what can be seen by those who opt out, it provides a solution that both advertisers/businesses can appreciate, as well as consumers.