Friending the Privacy Regulators
68 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2016 Last revised: 2 Dec 2016
Date Written: August 5, 2016
According to conventional wisdom, data privacy regulators in the European Union are unreasonably demanding, while their American counterparts are laughably lax. Many observers further assume that any privacy enforcement without monetary fines or other punishment is an ineffective “slap on the wrist.” This Article demonstrates that both of these assumptions are wrong. It uses the simultaneous 2011 investigation of Facebook’s privacy practices by regulators in the United States and Ireland as a case study. These two agencies reached broadly similar conclusions, and neither imposed a traditional penalty. Instead, they utilized “responsive regulation,” where the government emphasizes less adversarial techniques and considers formal enforcement actions more of a last resort.
When regulators in different jurisdictions employ this same responsive regulatory strategy, they blur the supposedly sharp distinctions between them, whatever may be written in their respective constitutional proclamations or statute books. Moreover, “regulatory friending” techniques work effectively in the privacy context. Responsive regulation encourages companies to improve their practices continually, it retains flexibility to deal with changing technology, and it discharges oversight duties cost-efficiently, thus improving real-world data practices.
Keywords: Privacy, Data Protection, Internet, Facebook, Social Media, Regulation, Responsive Regulation, Comparative Law, Ireland, Consumer Protection, Administrative Law
JEL Classification: K20
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation