With Amazon fine, Luxembourg emerges as Europe’s unlikely privacy champion

Luxembourg's €746 million fine is by far the highest under Europe's data protection rules.

With Amazon fine, Luxembourg emerges as Europe’s unlikely privacy champion

Move over, Dublin. It’s Luxembourg that’s kicking off Europe’s era of big-ticket privacy enforcement.

More than three years since the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation came online, the hefty fines it promised are finally materializing.

In financial filings out Friday, tech giant Amazon said the Grand Duchy had fined it a record €746 million after finding that the way the e-commerce giant handles people’s personal information falls afoul of Europe’s strict privacy code.

The figure is the highest ever levied under the code, way ahead of France’s €50 million penalty for Google, the second-highest, and sees Luxembourg emerge as Europe’s unlikely new privacy sheriff.

The tiny, tax-light country has long been accused of being soft on the corporations that make it their home. In light of a POLITICO investigation in February that revealed evidence of data protection lapses at Amazon, an official at the regulator maintained that big penalties were not the way to go. Viviane Reding, an opposition MP in the country and a former EU commissioner who was chief architect of the GDPR, had raised questions about the way the regulator handles privacy complaints, while the clamor of voices criticizing the watchdog grew.

But the record sum for a U.S. heavyweight has thrust Luxembourg to the front line of Europe’s war on Big Tech. In doing so, it asks tough questions of Ireland, which regulates the lion’s share of Silicon Valley companies. So far, Dublin has mustered just a single fine against their ranks: a €450,000 penalty for Twitter.

“This historic sanction highlights even more the complete abdication of the Irish data protection authority which, in three years, has not been able to wrap up any of the other four complaints we have brought against Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Google,” said French NGO La Quadrature du Net, whose complaint led to Luxembourg’s Amazon fine.

With the mega fine, Luxembourg could even supplant France as Europe’s toughest privacy enforcer. “The exemplary posture of the Luxembourg authority is also a cold shower for the CNIL [France’s data enforcer] in France which, for a long time, was a leader in Europe for data protection. Today, the CNIL is no more than a shadow of itself,” the French NGO added.

Luxembourg also seems to have dodged much of the bureaucratic wrangling that has thwarted Europe’s privacy enforcers against Big Tech.

The Twitter penalty, for instance, only materialized after Ireland was forced to trigger a formal mechanism to resolve disputes between Europe’s regulators, some of whom complained that the figure proposed by the Irish was too low. Ireland’s second Big Tech decision — a possible €50 million fine for WhatsApp — is embroiled in a similar tussle.

Luxembourg’s Amazon fine, however, faced a much smoother ride.

Luxembourg’s initial proposal, reported at around €360 million, was far lower than the figure eventually meted out, but it still managed to finalize the decision without resorting to formal dispute resolution mechanisms.

Luxembourg’s relatively smooth process throws doubt on Ireland’s claims that it is the European enforcement mechanism — known as the one-stop-shop — rather than its own actions that result in enforcement bottlenecks.

But Ireland’s caution may have its benefits.

Amazon has already said it intends to defend itself against Luxembourg’s decision “vigorously,” and said Luxembourg’s fine was predicated on “subjective and untested interpretations of European privacy law,” that are “entirely out of proportion.”

Company lawyers will already be sharpening legal arguments to pick holes in the regulator’s reasoning and may fancy their chances in a legal system that leans in favor of corporate interests.

If Amazon does manage to claw back the fine, it wouldn’t be the first embarrassing setback suffered by Europe’s GDPR enforcers.

Britain’s data protection regulator had two three-figure fines for British Airways and Marriott slashed by 80 percent after the companies fought against it, while Germany’s courts have cut down multi-million euro fines issued by the country’s privacy watchdogs.

Given the fine’s size and the target being none another than Amazon, a similar setback for Luxembourg would be a much more bitter pill to swallow.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Borrell: EU’s ‘insufficient’ vaccine donations open door for China

The EU hasn't fulfilled its commitments to Africa and Latin America, risking 'geopolitical consequences,' the foreign policy chief warns.

Borrell: EU’s ‘insufficient’ vaccine donations open door for China

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday lambasted the bloc’s “insufficient” coronavirus vaccine shipments to Africa and Latin America, warning that Europe risks losing influence to China.

The remarks reflect a growing concern in the EU that the bloc is not living up to its promises toward Africa and Latin America — both in terms of fighting the pandemic as well as building trade links — while China is sending more vaccines, making big investments and expanding its influence in these regions.

“China’s expansion in Africa and Latin America should concern us and should occupy us a great deal,” Borrell told a summer course organized by the Menéndez Pelayo International University in Santander, Spain. “In Europe, we vaccinated 60 percent of our population, in Africa, they are at 2 or 3 percent. Who’s the big vaccine supplier to Africa? China. Who’s the big vaccine supplier to Latin America? China.”

Indeed, China has been stepping up its vaccine diplomacy in developing countries. Earlier this month, President Xi Jinping pledged $3 billion in pandemic aid for poorer countries. Xi also claimed China had provided 500 million vaccine doses to developing countries. 

Borrell compared that to the vows made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who pledged 200 million doses to low- and middle-income countries by the end of the year.

“Yes, but when?” Borrell said. “The problem isn’t just the commitment but the effectiveness.”

According to the latest figures he had seen, Borrell said Europeans had distributed “around 10 million doses in Africa for a continent with 1.5 billion inhabitants. It’s certainly insufficient.”

The EU foreign policy representative recalled that von der Leyen launched her “geopolitical Commission” in 2019 by traveling to Africa and promising close partnership and cooperation. Those promises have now been thrown into doubt, he warned.

“We’re doing a lot but this lot isn’t enough,” he said. “An African leader recently told me: ‘You told us you would be our best partners. Well, now you have the chance to prove it.’”

The Chinese media has homed in on this point, portraying China as the most helpful partner for the developing world, while dismissing EU and U.S. efforts as negligible.

Borrell admitted the narrative is a major problem. “Others are doing more than us, or at least people perceive that they are doing more than us,” he said. “And that will have geopolitical consequences. Europe has to speed up … the putting into practice of our commitments.”

He also acknowledged that the EU has a problem with the visibility of its vaccine donations, despite being closely involved in COVAX, the global vaccine distribution initiative.

“We’ve given a lot of money to COVAX, we’re the great funders of COVAX,” he said. “But COVAX doesn’t appear as Europe, it’s an intermediate entity that has had enormous difficulties in supplying vaccines in the necessary amount.”

The Commission has similarly raised concerns about a lack of visibility for donations, especially when compared to the media blitzes that China and Russia launch when they offer supplies. The Commission wrote in the spring that it wanted to increase the awareness of its exports and donations by slapping EU and national flags on packages and allowing countries to donate to specific, strategically important regions.

The EU did eventually make a big public splash when it announced the 200 million dose donation. But the grand rhetoric has not yet been met with follow-up action. A Commission document seen by POLITICO showed that, as of July 14, only 4 percent of around 150 million vaccines that countries promised to donate had been delivered.

While the EU has exported many millions of doses around the world, the biggest recipients of those shots are wealthy countries like Japan and Canada.

Borrell said his concerns about slow EU action and Chinese expansion were not only linked to the area of vaccine distribution but also to trade deals.

“It is hard to understand why Europe is having so many delays in approving the association agreements with Mexico and Chile, while China is landing in all parts of Latin America and occupying a predominant role,” he warned, referencing two pending EU trade and political cooperation deals.

He added: “We should be much more diligent — and Latin America tells us: ‘Hey, if you are so concerned and want to be such partners with us, then please sign these agreements, because in the meantime China is landing.’”

Jillian Deutsch and Stuart Lau contributed reporting.

Source : Politico EU More   

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