Here’s an interesting item to ponder in the wake of GDPR’s activation on May 25, 2018. It’s been almost three months now — 11 weeks and 5 days, actually — but many news US outlets have elected to block European site visitors rather than tackle the administrivia required to comply with GDPR requirements. The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University has just published a fascinating story on this subject, entitled “More than 1,000 U.S. news sites are still unavailable in Europe, two months after GDPR took effect.” After explaining how this has affected just one US paper — The LA Times — the story goes on to make this remarkable observation:
More than two months after the GDPR took effect, hundreds of U.S. news websites — including digital properties operated by Tronc, Lee Enterprises and GateHouse Media — are unavailable in Europe, frustrating many American tourists, business travelers, and ex-pats as well as Europeans interested in news from the States.
What’s Going On Here?
It’s hard to explain why major US news outlets, including some of the best-known and most highly regarded newspapers in this country, are still blocking visitors to this day. Is it simple laziness, or unwillingness to commit resources to reach compliance? Our own Kari Finn here at Win10.Guru went through the laborious tasks involved in achieving compliance for our site, and it took him the better part of 20 hours to work through that process. Assuming that a big paper like the LA Times might take 100 times as long to reach compliance, that’s about 2,000 hours or one person-year of work to reach that goal. That’s probably over-generous on the time budget. But even at $50 an hour for the costs involved, that means we can say that news outlets are foregoing income and attention from a potential audience of 500 million persons to avoid a $100K outlay. (The approximate population of the EU is about 512 million right now according to Statisa, while that of the US is around 330 million according to the World Population Review.) That means foregoing potential income from a friendly and interested audience that’s 1.56 times greater than the folks at home, so to speak.
Fear of Fining
The real crux of the matter is that, as the Nieman Labs story puts it “The GDPR requires websites to obtain consent from users before collecting personal information, explain what data are being collected and why, and delete a user’s information if requested. Violating the GDPR can draw a hefty fine — as much as 4 percent of a company’s annual revenue.” It seems like US media companies would rather forgo the income potential from the European audience, instead of investing in the costs involved in achieving compliance, in the name of avoiding the apparently substantial risks that failure to attain full compliance can pose.
Doing nothing and opting out is certainly easier than biting the bullet, then committing to and achieving GDPR compliance. But I’m amazed that organizations which have adopted a content delivery model and ethos, and depend on visits and site interaction to generate revenue, would apparently — and blithely — decide to forgo a HUGE audience. Doesn’t it make sense to appoint a person or a team to perform risk analysis, and at least cost out a compliance plan, rather than simply skipping out?
The Nieman Labs story reveals that a self-described “rogue archivist” in the UK, Joseph O’Connor, has conducted a systematic survey of US news outlets and their availability in Europe. According to his analysis, more than a thousand US news sites are currently unavailable in the EU. Of course, there are tens of thousands of such sites in the country (see this Wikipedia story for some numbers and basic analysis). It’s an interesting issue for those in Europe who want to access US-based information outlets, to be sure.
Of course, such access issues can be circumvented by using a VPN, with the point of ostensible origin set to some location other than Europe. The best solution, however, is for lagging US news outlets to get with the program, and comply with GDPR. Let’s hope they do so sooner, rather than later (or never)!
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.