The watchful eye of European Big Brother

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Your small business might be breaking digital laws.

If you operate a small business in Iowa, chances are good that your customers are Iowans. However, if your business has a public website or any online space that your business administers, according to the European Union, you are part of the global marketplace, thereby subject to EU laws. Setting aside any political outrage you have with this issue, know that your legal culpability is not too great.

Of course, for complete legal advice, you should consult with a lawyer, but the general concern should be: If European citizens are visiting your website, how are you tracking them? Second, if you are tracking them, how are you collecting and maintaining their data?

Online privacy and personal information is among the hottest issues in tech today. In Europe, it has surpassed “third rail” status and become the hangman’s noose. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) basically says citizens have the right to digital anonymity unless they explicitly say otherwise.

So how does this affect a local hardware store in Iowa? Well, if your website has baked in analytics and tracking, you are wading in the GDPR waters. The good news is this law was written to punish Google and Facebook, so if you use Google Analytics to capture online tracking data or frequently review your Facebook statistics, have no fear. Those platforms have already pulled back their analytical offers to be GDPR compliant. If you don’t know what your website uses to track visitors, or if it uses a smaller, start-up tracking service, you better sit down with
whomever set up your website — and your lawyer.

The real issue going forward is, now that regulation has started to show its face in the big data world, many of the tools marketers, advertisers and online retailers took for granted (and truthfully abused) are starting to disappear and lose their punch. Email blast marketing is losing hordes of targets as recipients are being asked to opt-in and
recipient data is being thoroughly anonymized. Cross web service data sharing is disappearing, as it is now
illegal to share data with any third party businesses or services. Consumer purchase data and online ad generation based on browser history is being monitored. Basically all ethically nebulous tricks of the big data game are being monitored or made illegal to protect European citizens. So, like it or not, if your website is visible to someone across the pond, your small business might be breaking some digital laws. ♦

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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