An image of a green fedora hat, which serves as the logo for this site.Gordy's Discourse

Facebook threatens to withdraw from the EU (we should be so lucky)

Facebook has been getting uppity lately. Last month they bemoaned Apple's plans to stop it scraping a user's browsing habits without permission, and this month it's threatening to withdraw from the EU altogether.

This latter gripe is due to a new rule by Ireland's Data Protection Commission (DPC) that requires Facebook to stop transferring European users' data to the United States.

Facebook challenged the rule and a judge has put a block on the it pending a hearing in November.

Sadly, I cannot imagine we'll be lucky enough to kick Facebook out of the UK. For starters, Brexit means we're not going to be part of the EU, but I would also imagine Facebook will find a way to comply if push comes to shove. I doubt they'd want to miss out on scraping the data of nearly half a billion EU users of Facebook and Instagram.

I have no objection to Facebook taking my data with my permission. The default position should be that it takes none whatsoever. If I choose to give permission then I should be able to do so on a per-company and per-site basis, permitting a single, discrete company or site to scrape my data. The process should be very much opt-in rather than opt-out. It tries to appear that way now of course. The relentless stream of privacy boxes we have to authorise (or not) could give that impression, but that's a sham.

I can say this strongly enough: if I do nothing at all to interact with a site, they should collect no data from me whatsoever. They should not ask me anything, nor have me confirm any boxes. They should simply collect nothing. If I wish to give my data to that site then I must actively seek some settings and do so.

I would allow sites one privilege — one that would require an interaction — in this respect; if they do not want me on their site unless I permit data scraping, they would be allowed to tell me on entry. It would be a standardised dialog that gives me just two options. The first option takes me to the settings if I want to allow data scraping and the second option dumps me out of the site (or shows a blank page) if I don't want to allow data scraping.

Credit: Facebook inc. by way of Wikipedia.
I think Facebook have some audacity to moan about not being able to take data without permission. They might claim they get that permission from their extensive and complicated terms and conditions, but we all know those documents are designed with the sole aim of getting as much data collection past users as they can.

Apple's planned restrictions on the tracking free-for-all are a very good idea. They were supposed to be implemented in iOS/iPadOS 14 but they're giving developers more time to deal with the idea. Apple is being more gracious than I'd be. As far as I'm concerned they never should have been allowed such rampant data collection permissions in the first place. It's not is if Apple is taking away something that ever belonged to Facebook or, at least, ever should have.

This particular article I'm writing focusses on the privacy issue, but there are other reasons to claw back some ground from the tech behemoths. Back in 2017, 70% of all internet traffic was routed through Facebook or Google. I don't know what percentage it is as of September 2020 but I don't imagine it has changed too much, and that can't be healthy. It means the majority of information we read, watch and listen to online is, ultimately, shaped by Sundar Pichai (Google's CEO) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook's CEO).

But that's a story for another day.