By: Gigaom
February 11, 2013 at 11:56 AM EST
Amazon, eBay privacy lobbying sparks cut-and-paste crowdsourcing drive
How do you highlight examples of big corporations' lobbying proposals being copied, word-for-word, into proposed laws? For EU privacy activists, the answer lies in many eyes.

It’s no secret that the big U.S. tech firms have very active lobbying operations in Europe — operations that are in overdrive right now, due to the ongoing revision of the EU’s Data Protection Regulation. But you may be surprised to see how literally some members of the European Parliament are taking those lobbyists’ suggestions, which tend to favour the watering-down of the EU privacy proposals.

On Monday Max Schrems, the self-styled scourge of Facebook who has forced several changes in the way the social network treats people’s data in Europe, published a comparison table (PDF warning) that shows how entire passages have been copied, word-for-word, from lobbying documents into proposed amendments to the new regulation. The sources of these texts include Amazon and eBay, as well as the American Chamber of Commerce.

Amazon in particular seems to have had its proposed wording taken very seriously by some parliamentarians, who have copied wholesale the cloud provider’s proposals about reducing the responsibilities of non-EU cloud providers when hosting EU citizens’ data (the original proposals would, for example, force the cloud providers to remove data about certain individuals if those individuals want to be digitally “forgotten”).

But this is an unfinished project, and there’s still work to be done. What’s particularly entertaining is the way in which the privacy activists are tracking the similarities between the lobbying documents – which we know about largely through leaks – and the new amendments.

It’s being done through a website called LobbyPlag, in which the “Plag” is short for “plagiarism.” The idea was previously used for a site called GuttenPlag, which people used to collate examples of former German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg plagiarizing other people’s work in his doctoral thesis (zu Guttenberg subsequently resigned before being inexplicably made an EU digital freedom champion).

Here’s a screencast of how LobbyPlag works, courtesy of OpenDataCity, the German data journalism outfit that’s supplying the technology:

I think it’s fair to say that leaked documents plus crowdsourced analysis can make for a pretty potent combination. Whether that mix will have any effect against well-funded lobbying, though, is another matter. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a simple U.S.-versus-Europe thing, by the way. As recent research has shown, actual consumers on both sides of the pond have similar expectations about data privacy — both sides want more of it.

“Certain companies will always be willing and able to throw millions of dollars behind lobbying efforts to ensure that new legislation doesn’t interfere with their business models — particularly if those models are dependent on invading people’s rights to privacy and data protection,” Anna Fielder, trustee of UK-based Privacy International, said in a statement.

“We would hope that MEPs are taking all sides of the argument into account when making law, not just the richest and most powerful corporate interests.”


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