One of the European Union's leading regulators is making a house call to Silicon Valley this week. Her agenda: A series of meetings with the likes of Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg to press the tech industry on privacy, hate speech and consumer protection.
The visit beginning today by Věra Jourová, the EU commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, comes at a time when Brussels increasingly is the cop on the beat overseeing the U.S. tech industry, which often has escaped the strongest regulation from its own government in Washington, D.C.
At the top of Jourová's list is the future of a transatlantic trade pact that allows tech companies to store Europeans' data in the United States. The agreement, called the Privacy Shield, exists to bridge the gap between the U.S. and EU governments' different approaches to privacy protection — and the deal is up for its first annual review this week.
The likes of Facebook, Google and Microsoft stress the agreement is essential for the day-to-day functions of their products and services, as have top White House officials. Together, they fought to secure its implementation beginning in 2015, after concerns about the U.S. government's lax privacy laws led an EU court to invalidate their last data-transfer pact.
For her part, Jourová exited the meeting with key Trump administration officials saying she "had a very strong feeling that we are on one page, the same page, as for the goals" of the Privacy Shield. But she did express a few doubts — including the fact that the U.S. government had yet to appoint an ombudsman for the trade agreement. That official is supposed to handle complaints from EU citizens who fear their data has been handled inappropriately by the United States.
"I'm sure we will insist on having people in those places as soon as possible," she said of a forthcoming EU report on implementation.
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As part of a review of the Privacy Shield, Jourová's meetings will take her to Apple, Facebook, Google and Palantir, she told Recode. With web companies in particular, they'll also hear an earful about the EU's work to crack down on everything from copyright infringement to hate speech.
To that end, the Commission is expected to produce a policy paper in September studying those issues as well as other forms of illegal content, including terrorist messaging and child pornography. The process, Jourová said, would determine "whether we will come with more strict rules, or whether we will continue working with the IT sector."
On hate speech, in particular, the EU has already pressed Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google to add more staff and improve their technology so they can spot offending content identified by European governments and take it down in the course of 24 hours. Over the past year, those companies have sped up their response times, a recent EU report has found — though Twitter still has faced criticism for being too slow.
Absent more improvements, Jourová stressed that the EU could seek binding regulation of hate speech — rules that would apply beyond the four companies currently working with Brussels on the issue.
"We made clear that if we do not see better action we will have to come with maybe harder solutions in the EU — hard in the [sense] of regulation," she said.