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The Computer Corner

COMPUTERS

By Charles Miller

The acclaimed historian, author, and Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin said: “The unintended consequences of man’s enterprises have and will always be more potent, more widespread, and more influential than those he intended.” A recent example of this is the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) that came into force on May 25, 2018.

Called the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years, GDPR standardizes data-privacy laws throughout Europe by regulating the way organizations approach data-privacy.

GDPR supposedly protects EU citizens by empowering them to have more control over how their personal data is collected, stored, and used. One element of this is how websites collect and share information about the users of their website.

Websites may still use cookies to track the web surfing habits of those who visit the site, but to comply with GDPR regulations the website owners must now disclose what information they collect and permit EU citizens to opt out.

The new European Union law also addresses the export and free movement of personal data outside the EU, and this extraterritorial element is where the plot thickens. Any website in the world that collects personal data on any EU citizen is subject to the GDPR and potentially subject to huge fines for noncompliance. It is not at all clear how regulators in the EU would be able to enforce GDPR and levy fines outside Europe, but so many businesses today are international, and many have some interests within the EU’s jurisdiction.

The owners of websites such as my East Texas hometown newspaper, the Marshall News Messenger (marshallnewsmessenger.com) apparently decided it was just too much trouble to comply with GDPR. It was, however, trivial to simply block out everyone trying to read the news from the EU by putting up a message reading “We recognize you are attempting to access this website from a country belonging to the EU… and therefore access cannot be granted at this time.”

Expatriates living in México are probably already familiar with this kind of geoblocking. Many of the websites expatriates want to access are blocked from access in México unless the user employs a VPN to obfuscate their location.

It is hard to imagine there will be much uproar in Europe just because the local newspaper in Marshall, Texas (population 25,000), decided to block out all European visitors, but the list of news websites now blocking all access from the EU includes some big names. The list is growing by the day and now includes the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, St Louis Post-Dispatch, Dallas Morning News and hundreds of other US news outlets large and small. Citizens of the EU now find that their access to US news sources is being increasingly limited. Perhaps worst of all, nobody in Europe now has access online to the National Enquirer!

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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