Why Europe Is Right To Keep Facebook & Co. In Check

Facebook must have been tripping if it thought it could enable automatic photo face-tagging without also automatically tripping the interest of European privacy regulators.

“A group of privacy watchdogs drawn from the EU’s 27 nations will study the measure for possible rules violations,” says Bloomberg, which quotes one such watchdog as saying: “Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people’s prior consent and it can’t be activated by default. (We will) clarify to Facebook that this can’t happen like this.”

At the eG8 summit in Paris last month, Mark Zuckerberg – forecasting consumers’ inexorable growing desire to share more and more of their lives – led the tech lobby in opposing over-regulation of the internet, fearing it would hamper innovation.

But the European Commission doesn’t want to over-burden innovation; it wants to protect its citizens. To that end, it has a rich heritage in passing pro-competition, pro-privacy directives that work in consumers’ best interest.

Just look at the way it has wrung less oppressive behaviour from Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), mandated real web browser choice, wound back the period for which search engines can store user data, has capped mobile voice, SMS and data pricing and, currently, is carrying out a competition investigation in to advertisers’ complaint that Google (NSDQ: GOOG) abuses what, in some countries, is 90 percent market domination.

The increasing prevalence of hack attacks, many of which expose the disregard some tech companies have toward their customers’ data, is just one more indication that such operators absolutely need to be kept in check.

It is developers’ right to innovate, but it is also governments’ right to protect their citizens. A good market is one which acts in its consumers’ best interests, not necessarily one marked by unbound free-market tech expansionism.

European citizens can be thankful that Brussels and Strasbourg lead the world by giving proper oversight to such issues. Such investigations may indeed find that our technology companies are acting wholly responsibly; but their developments warrant long-armed scrutiny. A world without such checks is a world in which Google’s cars are free to roam our streets, sniffing our WiFi networks, in which Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) can use GPS to track our whereabouts without our knowledge.

As for Facebook’s face recognition? Even Eric Schmidt thinks that’s “crossing the creepy line”.

The same group now checking on face-tagging has previously spoken out against behavioural targeting, Google’s data retention and these issues.