LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - If data is the world’s most valuable resource, the people who produce it deserve a cut. A new UK law will hand citizens greater power over their online information. For companies, compliance standards – and fines for breaking the rules – will get steeper. Showing people the value of their digital data increases the possibility that they will seek compensation for it.
The data protection law is part of an EU-wide overhaul that must be in place by May 2018. Even after it leaves the bloc, Britain’s standards will need to match the rest of the European Union if digital trade is to continue smoothly.
Some changes are minor. For example, companies will no longer be able to charge customers a fee for supplying a copy of the data they hold. Other requirements, including a new right to allow people to take their data with them when they switch service providers, are more demanding. Companies also face beefed-up fines for abuses. Britain’s Information Commissioner can currently fine them up to 500,000 pounds. That limit will increase to 17 million pounds, or up to 4 percent of global turnover – whichever is bigger.
That should encourage providers to be more careful with sensitive information, and take better precautions against hacking. A new right to have data erased – a big departure from the current “right to be forgotten” provisions which only apply in exceptional situations – means companies that are careless with data could face a deluge of delete requests from unhappy customers.
The bigger question is whether web surfers will begin to attach more value to the data they currently share. Existing data rights are rarely used. But in future it will be possible to request a list of all the third parties that a person’s data has been sold to – shining light on the opaque business of batching and selling consumer information.
There are signs that consumers value their privacy. An experiment carried out by London Economics shows that people are willing to forgo savings of 5 percent to 10 percent on transactions that require handing over a lot of personal information, preferring to protect the kinds of rights the new bill offers. Getting people to part with information will require remuneration. The new UK law makes that a more realistic possibility.
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