The GSMA, which represents the interests of nearly 800 mobile operators worldwide, who collectively serve more than 5 billion customers globally, welcomes the protection brought to consumers by Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
However, while this new regulation, which goes live on 25 May, strikes a balance between enabling industry to flourish and protecting the rights of individuals, mobile operators are deeply concerned by inconsistencies in the application of European privacy regulations that could risk consumers’ access to new communication services in the future.
John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA, explains:
“Consumers should rightfully celebrate the new protections the GDPR brings them. The GDPR is driving up standards of responsible data governance, not only in the EU, but also around the world, stimulating efforts to find a common ground for data privacy.
“The more compatible data privacy laws are with each other, the faster we can move to a world where countries allow personal data to flow relatively freely between them. Consumers’ ability to benefit fully from the next wave of innovation, built on technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence (AI), will depend on this unhindered flow of data between countries.
“However, the benefits of GDPR could easily be undermined if the current regulatory imbalance between the telecommunications industry and other players in the digital world is not resolved. Telecom operators are still subject to additional obligations vis-à-vis other digital players imposed by the ePrivacy Directive. When the European Council shortly decides on their position on the proposal to replace the current directive with an ePrivacy Regulation (ePR), we must not ignore the impact of the ePR on both existing and future services that are critical to Europe’s digital growth.
“The specific obligations imposed by the European Commission’s current proposal for the ePR would be detrimental to the mobile industry’s ability to innovate and invest in future technologies, such as 5G, the Internet of Things, AI and big data. Data privacy regulation is essential, but fair competition and consumer protection require the consistent application of privacy regulations.
“The current ePR proposal only allows the use of communications metadata under very limited circumstances, which could prevent the legitimate, unobtrusive use of data across a number of sectors, negatively impacting society and the European economy. In contrast, the generally applicable GDPR strikes a better balance between the ability to innovate and the protection of people’s personal data. Its principles should therefore also be applied to processing metadata to allow telecoms operators to equally compete in a responsible way with other market players in the digital value chain.
“Europe needs greater alignment between the ePR and the GDPR to support individuals’ fundamental rights, while permitting technological developments and spurring investment. Otherwise, this lack of consistency in European privacy regulation could harm consumers’ interests in the long term by denying them the potential benefits of new communications services in the future.”