Names on door­bells? Sorry, not in Europe.

Vi­enna fears fines over new pri­vacy law

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - PEOPLE & ARTS - By Rick Noack

BER­LIN — Find­ing some­one’s home in Vi­enna used to be a fairly sim­ple process. You ap­proached the build­ing, checked for the cor­rect name from the list at the door and then rang the door­bell.

But these are dif­fi­cult times, and door­bells aren’t an ex­cep­tion.

Across the Aus­trian cap­i­tal, last names are be­ing re­placed with num­bers to con­form with a new Euro­pean pri­vacy law that took ef­fect this year. About 220,000 name tags will be re­moved in Vi­enna by the end of the year, the city’s hous­ing author­ity said. Of­fi­cials fear that they could oth­er­wise be fined up to $23 mil­lion, or about $1,150 per name.

They are act­ing fol­low­ing a com­plaint by a ten­ant, but no court has ruled on whether names on door­bells are a vi­o­la­tion of Europe’s tough new pri­vacy laws.

The con­ti­nent has long been at the fore­front of con­sumer pro­tec­tion laws. While Google Street View blurred the faces of in­di­vid­u­als across the world, Euro­pean users suc­cess­fully de­manded an ad­di­tional op­tion to have their houses or apart­ments blurred too. EU watch­dogs also reg­u­larly in­ves­ti­gate Amer­i­can tech giants like Google and Face­book and have shown a more se­ri­ous com­mit­ment to hold them to ac­count over pri­vacy breaches than their U.S. coun­ter­parts.

But some crit­ics say that the push to­ward more pri­vacy has gone too far.

Sev­eral U.S. news sites be­came in­ac­ces­si­ble in Europe af­ter the new data pro­tec­tion laws were in­tro­duced ear­lier this year, mak­ing it il­le­gal for those pa­pers to har­vest data from their read­ers and re­sell it. Those com­pa­nies did not want to risk EU fines (or give up on data har­vest­ing) and in­stead now block Euro­pean read­ers.

Vi­enna’s door­bell con­tro­versy adds an­other episode to the con­fu­sion. Many EUmem­ber states have long had laws that would the­o­ret­i­cally have pre­vented land­lords from dis­play­ing their ten­ants’ names out­side flats or houses. But for decades, no­body cared about it too much. With pri­vacy is­sues now be­ing a pri­mary topic of pub­lic de­bate, that’s chang­ing.

But in Europe, a door­bell isn’t just a door­bell. While some coun­tries, in­clud­ing France, Spain and Poland, in­tro­duced num­bers in­stead of names decades ago to make things eas­ier, Ger­many and some other coun­tries up­held the door­bell name tra­di­tion. Door­bells are part of a build­ing’s iden­tity and builds com­mu­nity. Ev­ery­one knows ev­ery­one be­cause the names are right there at the front door.

Door­bells with names push back against the mod­ern-day anonymity of big ur­ban cen­ters, the think­ing goes. In Ger­many, es­pe­cially, ques­tions over the fu­ture of that prac­tice have caused out­rage, even among data pro­tec­tion ad­vo­cates.

“This is ab­so­lute id­iocy,” Thomas Kranig, head of Bavaria’s data pro­tec­tion agency, told news site Nord­bay­ern.

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