Dear European Commission, The pace of technological change is astounding, particularly in mobile. And yet many have noticed it is much slower in the EU than in the rest of the world. The reason for this is, in part, the fragmented market you are looking to unify. Although the intentions behind the Digital Single Market (DSM) proposal are great, some ideas are poised to do more harm than good to both service providers and their customers.
Frankly, there seems to be lack of expertise among lawmaking officials, which is understandable. Proposals that keep developers up at night — data portability, for example — are not of obvious concern to people who don’t actually build technology. The recently held public consultation was an attempt to address that issue. Unfortunately, the survey was incredibly long — requiring as much as four hours to complete — and it was not comprehensible to an average citizen or developer. As such, it was either ignored or misunderstood by the very people whose advice and insight could be most useful to lawmakers.
The DSM proposal therefore has multiple problem points and proposed practices that may hinder development, stunt business growth and hurt consumers.
One area of concern is data collection. When users interact with platforms and services, they generate a lot of non-personal data that businesses track. This is mostly done via analytics — tracking how users interact with a product or service. This data is anonymized and non-personal, and is used to make important decisions in both growing as a business and creating a better user experience for consumers.
Since technology changes at a fast pace, so does the data that services collect. As such, informing users about every change is a nearly impossible task and the constant notifications would probably make them miserable. Here’s another problem: Since the data is anonymized, it is not tied to a particular user and to enable any user to download his non-personal data and move it between services would risk user privacy and create more headaches for developers.
Another issue is the tracking of illegal content and the liability of providers (platforms, services and developers). Users upload vast amounts of information daily. Every minute, YouTube users upload 72 hours of content, Facebook users share over 2.5 million items and Twitter sees over 300,000 tweets. To track illegal activity is a Sisyphean task even for those huge multi-billion dollar companies, with thousands employees and engineers, and a completely impossible task for individual developers and small companies due to technological barriers.
Because data is presented in many different ways and in most cases is encrypted, content scanning is an enormous task that is nearly impossible for small companies and individual developers to achieve. Intermediaries should discourage uploading illegal content, and do everything in their power to deal with it when given notice of a copyright breach, but should not in any case be considered liable or be punished for it.
Another point you touch upon is data protection. The new General Data Protection Regulation is a huge, 209-page document that proposes a lot of rules that seem like pointless legal barriers. It raises many questions such as: What is defined as sensitive data? What are data protection officers’ tasks? Will the data protection guidelines be able to keep up with the fast pace of the industry? Will the data protection practices follow security industry best practices? Will those practices be implementable by individual developers? How will appointing a Data Protection officer ensure that the company is actually doing the best they can to secure users’ data?
All of these points could have been easily addressed if there was a clear line of communication between lawmakers and the people who will most feel the impact of new laws. Instead, we got a survey that few people know exists and even fewer understand.
The DSM should remove barriers for digital platforms and services, not create new ones. Companies want to sell their products over the whole EU market, and the EC should make that easier. Speaking as both a developer and a consumer, it’s obvious to me the DSM should ease distribution by removing geo-blocking and enabling customers to access the same content no matter where in the EU they are located.
We also need to equalize laws in member states for new platforms. Uber can afford to fight a different legal battle in every country, as crazy as that is. It’s difficult to imagine a European competitor emerging with such obstacles in place. There are many more areas where the DSM could shine and help us create a true digital market.
The EU is filled with smart, motivated developers and entrepreneurs. There is no reason we should lag behind any other market. If your goal is to improve commerce and enable small businesses in the technology sector to thrive — perhaps one day competing on a global level — then you need to listen to us. We can help you understand what we need, but it’s not going to happen with overly complicated public consultation forms.
Share this with your colleagues. Email me. I’ll introduce you to some friends. Let’s have a conversation with elected leaders and the developers you’re trying to help and solve some of these problems. We can help you make better laws that allow us to be successful.
Ian Rumac is a developer based in Zagreb, Croatia. He organizes Android meetups, has seen Star Wars way too many times, and will listen to anything Kanye has to say.