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Social Actions, Big Data on the radar screen

What is the economic model of a free website site that brings together 1.2 billion fairly regular users? How does this same social networking website justify being ready to spend 16 billion dollars for an application that is practically free –WhatsApp– that is used by 500 million internet users daily?

The answer lies in the sale of personal data that is sometimes very intimate, collected on these sites and through its applications. This is the observation made by a young Austrian law student, Max Schrems. He even made it the subject of his doctoral thesis and the reason for his battle before the courts: how to regain control and confidentiality of information he "posts" on the social networks. In Austria, he successfully mobilized 60,000 people who do not accept having their personal data stored, analyzed, and sold to companies that wish to send their message and their offer to a carefully targeted clientele.  

This is what Facebook does with personal data; OTAs do it with commercial information thanks to reservations and data provided by each user that opens an account. Each client's travel, orders, spending and preferences are carefully stored and digested to produce tempting offers, travel suggestions, promotional emails.... No need to sign up, the CRM is automated and personal life is dissected.

The justice system is beginning to be concerned about this invasion of privacy and the casual response of social networking sites and online agencies sites to government regulations. Protected by their fictive headquarters, the web giants have heretofore enjoyed obvious impunity with respect to their abuse. Max Schrems' action against Facebook could stimulate reactions from other exasperated clients, relayed by courts who no longer accept the obvious contempt of these American giants for privacy protection laws. "Class action" suits risk growing more numerous in an effort to revive some sense of ethics in this very practical jungle.

"The American giants have a competitive advantage in the market of social media in Europe, because they use personal data of users without any major consequences," observed Andreas Krisch, Member of the Austrian Data Protection Commission and president of the initiative of European Digital Rights (EDRI).

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