Plus the EU Goes to War With Big Tech
Welcome to your Sunday digest…my weekly breakdown of the things we’re thinking about and talking about in the Global Intelligence world.
First up this week…privacy concerns around QR codes.
QR codes—those pixelated black-and-white squares that look like barcodes—have become a common sight in bars, restaurants, and retail businesses since the start of the pandemic. This makes sense since they offer a convenient way to order or check information without having to handle any paper menus or other physical documents.
Half of all full-service restaurants in the U.S. have now added the codes to their tables, according to the National Restaurant Association. Meanwhile, PayPal has rolled out QR code payments to around 1 million small businesses as well as big chains like CVS and Foot Locker.
But here’s the thing most people don’t understand about QR codes: Businesses can use them to track you.
QR codes can store information such as when and how often they are scanned. Plus, when you open a website using a QR code, that website may ask for some personal data or use trackers to monitor your internet browsing activity.
So, QR codes have allowed businesses to build big databases of customers’ personal info and order history. This, in turn, has helped increase profits, since businesses can utilize this information to present people will personalized offers when they use a QR code to order…like a favorite cocktail to go with your burger.
The codes can also help cut back on staffing costs. Restaurants, for instance, may need less waiters if everyone’s ordering through the QR code.
For these reasons, businesses are unlikely to give up QR codes, even when the pandemic subsides.
My take: In a post-pandemic world, using QR codes is probably fine at neighborhood, family-run bars and restaurants, but I would avoid using them at the big retailers. Large corporations already have enough avenues to collect data on us. And I don’t like the idea of just handing over my personal information if I can avoid it.
Speaking of personal data…have you heard the one about Amazon and the 746 million euro ($887 million) fine?
Recently, Amazon got slapped with this truly massive fine for violating EU data protection laws. The fine was issued by the National Commission for Data Protection in Luxembourg, where Amazon’s European operations are based. Amazon is appealing the decision.
Europe has a strict online data law known as the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. If you’ve ever been to Europe, you’ll be aware of this. In Europe, every website you visit is required to provide information about what data it collects and ask for your permission to gather it. This means European web users can opt out of a lot of data collection.
European regulators ruled that Amazon’s processing of personal data for advertising did not meet the GDPR requirements.
While other tech giants have been punished before for GDPR violations, what stands out about this instance is the size of the fine. At 746 million euros, the fine far eclipses the previous record fine of 50 million euros, which was levied against Google in France.
The size of the penalty will likely fall over time, even if Amazon’s appeal fails, since other EU regulators would have to approve the fine. This process will take some time to play out.
Still, by levying such a large fine, the EU is laying down a marker.
In recent years, the EU has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to rein in big tech companies, and this fine may mark the start of a new campaign to break up their dominance in Europe. In time, that could have a significant impact on the bottom lines of Google, Amazon, Apple, and other big American tech corporations.
Finally, this week…a tech pioneer is trying to kick-start a new trend.
Kickstarter, the popular crowdfunding platform, recently announced plans to basically allow employees to work a four-day week. Under the pilot program, which is set to begin next year, employees will be able to work eight hours fewer per week, for no less money.
The company is not planning to add any additional staff. It believes that workers will be able to complete their tasks in the shortened time frame.
The announcement of Kickstarter’s pilot program has led to calls for the widespread adoption of a four-day workweek in the U.S.
Calls like this are not new (Richard Nixon predicted a four-day workweek would become the norm back when he was Eisenhower’s vice president), but now they are coming as companies big and small try to determine what the post-COVID work environment should look like.
Personally, I’m not sure where this goes in the near term. Gen Xers and Boomers probably shake their collective heads at this and think it’s just another indication of the softening of America.
But millennials and Gen Z are massive generations (millennials, the largest ever) and they are coming into their own politically. They have strongly held beliefs and ideals about what society should become and they—not us—are going to shape what the world becomes over the next two decades, from the definition of work to the definition of money (i.e. crypto).
If nothing else, pilot programs like this could lead to the emergence of less standardized working arrangements.
For the better part of a century, businesses of all types have operated on the same basic nine-to-five schedule…primarily due to social norms. That may have made sense in the days before Zoom and online ordering, but in the internet age, it’s completely unnecessary.
In the aftermath of COVID, I get the sense we’ll see companies throughout the economy operating on wildly different schedules. Some may be open four days a week, some five. Some may be completely online, while others might have a mix of remote and in-person work.
This will be good news for workers…allowing them to more easily choose companies based on the lifestyle they will have, and not simply the salary and the work they’ll be required to do.
That brings us to the end of this week’s digest. Many thanks for being a subscriber. And if you have any feedback or questions, please reach out through the contact form on the Global Intelligence website here. I’d love to hear from you.
Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.