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Editorial: Enhance effectiveness of regulations on IT giants to protect users’ data

  • September 4, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 7:43 p.m.
  • English Press

How should users’ personal information be protected while information technology firms are becoming behemoths that gather and accumulate massive amounts of data? It is important to make relevant regulations effective.


The Fair Trade Commission has compiled draft guidelines for regulating the inappropriate use of personal data by IT firms.


“Abuse of a superior bargaining position,” which is prohibited by the Antimonopoly Law, will also be applied to those IT firms that deal with online shopping and search engines. This is because they hold a stronger position over users of their services. Should they violate the law, such acts would be subject to cease and desist orders or surcharges.


It is significant that action will be taken that gets to the core of protecting personal data.


The guidelines will put the brakes on IT companies utilizing their users’ personal information without notifying them of the purposes, or on their supplying such data to a third party without consent. IT firms will be required to state plainly the purpose of using personal information in the website terms of use and treat the data with care.


The aim at responding to consumers’ concerns is understandable. The compilation of the guidelines can also be considered as a move that is in line with the global trend of reinforcing regulations on the use of personal data.


Kept in view are platforms such as U.S. firms Google LLC and Facebook Inc. The Law on the Protection of Personal Information cannot, in principle, impose a fine on overseas firms. The guidelines may also aim at making up for this.


Domestic IT firms such as Rakuten, Inc. and Yahoo Japan Corp. are not excepted, either. The company that operates Rikunabi, an online job information site, was criticized for having sold the data of those students registered with the site to other firms. Such an act may also be construed to run counter to the guidelines. It would be vital for IT firms to reexamine their services.


Make rules clear


It can be supposed that many people, wanting to continue using certain social media, are compelled to supply their personal data beyond what can be deemed necessary.


The guidelines consider that such a case could also be interpreted as “consent” against the user’s will and become problematic.


To be noted in particular is that the guidelines institute a complex of restrictions on the users’ online search history and location information via smartphones. These data are usually not treated as “personal information” under the Law on the Protection of Personal Information.


Also considered as a possible violation of the Antimonopoly Law is the method of distributing targeted advertisements that a consumer is likely to be highly interested in — as suggested by the user’s search history — unless there is prior consent from the user.


There still remain some challenges for the regulations. With the services of IT firms being so diverse, there is vagueness as to which cases could constitute a violation of the law. The commission needs to thoroughly explain the regulations, thus enhancing their transparency.


The central government also extends support to those businesses that utilize personal data. It is important for the government not to excessively wither technological innovation, while making efforts to protect consumers’ information.


Social media and online search services are free because personal data is supplied to the business operators through the use of these services. Users should also be aware of the possible risks involved in such services.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 4, 2019)

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