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netID provides a single portal where European consumers will be able to manage their data privacy

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The European netID Foundation is an attempt to create a single privacy portal and backoffice where consumers can give instructions about how media companies, e-commerce providers and other retailers use their data. It is an important attempt to make privacy management easy both for companies who must comply with GDPR and ePrivacy regulations and for end consumers. The broadcast groups Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland and ProSiebenSat.1, together with the Internet services company United Internet (which provides consumer applications like email plus web infrastructure like data centres, among other things, and owns consumer-facing brands like WEB.DE and GMX) are behind the initiative.

The ambition is that netID will become an open alliance that media companies, retailers and advertisers across Europe can sign up to. The European netID Foundation is already in talks with media companies in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria, for instance. In total it is talking to 50 major companies that have personal (log-in) data. The three launch members alone reach approximately 50 million Internet users, which is considered a critical mass to ensure success.

There is one privacy centre where a consumer will make their privacy wishes clear. This can be accessed from multiple locations, like from the online services and websites belonging to different broadcasters, for example. Once there, you can opt-in and opt-out of features/services that may require use of your personal data. An obvious example would be targeted advertising. You might tick ‘yes’ for one media company and ‘no’ for another and there is a clear opportunity to simplify the whole process for consumers if they can opt-in (or out) for targeting in general.

While the European netID Foundation is an industry initiative, it comes with a consumer-facing brand (netID), which has its own logo. The three founder members are committed to raising public awareness for the initiative, including with promotion on the web, TV and in magazines.

The shared privacy management backoffice will also make it easier for broadcasters and advertisers to cooperate on data. Anti-trust regulations in Germany mean media companies are not allowed to pool their data but one company would be allowed to buy data from another in a bilateral deal. The obvious caveat, given that a key purpose of netID is to give people control of their data as a right, is that consumers would have agreed to their data being sold to a third-party.

As a press release from the European netID Foundation states (issued via Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland, ProSiebenSat.1 and United Internet): “Each user has a standardised privacy centre at their disposal. This is furnished by their account provider and guarantees transparency regarding their personal data. As a result, users can manage their data, change their password, and issue or revoke their consent in just one place.”

The statement says that the foundation will help Internet providers in all industries to implement the new European data protection law. “To this end, we are providing an open industry standard, branded ‘netID’, with which every website in Europe can offer its users a secure log-in pursuant to data protection regulations.” The European netID Foundation will be responsible for standards compliance and standards development.

The European netID Foundation emphasises that personal data is not shared between account providers and Internet services until after the user has given their consent. The organisation has also been stressing its open approach, “which distinguishes us significantly from centralised and proprietary ecosystems for user and usage data”. The foundation is willing to cooperate with other shared privacy management initiatives.

“There is much interest in our open standard. We are in discussion with well-known companies in nearly every industry segment,” adds Jan Oetjen, Member of the Management Board at United Internet, who is also the CEO for WEB.DE and GMX.

Christof Wahl, who is Member of the Executive Board, Digital, and COO at ProSiebenSat.1 Group, comments: “”Data protection and user-friendly services are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, netID creates a digital service that will facilitate handling of the personal data of millions of Internet users in Germany, right from the start [of the GDPR/ePrivacy era].”

Dr Marcus Dimpfel, Head of Strategy and Business Development for Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland, says: “Data protection is an international issue, so the European netID Foundation is introducing a standard that extends throughout Europe and across multiple industries.”

Dr Dimpfel and Oetjen will represent their companies on the European netID Foundation’s board together with Daniel Prümers of ProSiebenSat.1. They are joined by Prof. Friedbert Pflüger and Prof. Rolf Schwartmann, both respected data protection experts.

Prof. Pflüger says: “Data sovereignty and compliance with European standards have landed at the top of the digital agenda, due in no small part to the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the proposed ePrivacy Regulation. The establishment of a European log-in standard is the right response to this development – I was happy to support it.”

Professor Schwartmann is Chairman of GDD – the German Association for Data Protection and Data Security), which has stood for practical data protection for over 40 years. “European data protection law is holding the economy to account for its business model,” he declares.

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