GDPR stands for the “General Data Protection Regulation.” It’s the most important data privacy law thus far, the convoluted product of a four-year deliberative process, a “staggeringly complex” law that “no one understands,” an 88-page monster translated into 26 different languages.
GDPR is 56,000 words, which is about the length of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. It should not be funny. But it is. It’s hilarious, and I don’t know why.
I found myself scrolling through the #GDPRmemes hashtag the other day. The hashtag is more or less what you would expect — #GDPR #compliance #brands shilling for products and services through image macros that were popular on Reddit three years ago. It should not have made me laugh, but it turns out GDPR is so inherently funny that I still loled repeatedly, scrolling for more of that good content.
Like a great deal of humor, GDPR memes draw on both timing and universality of experience. Most of us aren’t entirely sure we even know what GDPR is, but we do know that companies are freaking out about it. Our inboxes are swamped with emails begging us to opt back into services that we don’t want and have long forgotten about.
Whatever GDPR is, it’s already struck fear into the hearts of companies that we weren’t entirely sure should have existed in the first place. Klout — which can more or less be described as a social media oriented coupon book — is officially dead. CNNMoney reports that Verve, a “mobile marketer,” is shuttering its operations in Europe, thus avoiding getting hit with GDPR requirements at all. Over in the Internet of Things, the Yeelight app now won’t let you control your smart lights, because GDPR. (Wait, why are my lightbulbs “processing data” as subject to the General Data Protection Regulation?)
On Twitter there’s a host of jokes about how GDPR has ironically increased the volume of email spam by prompting a deluge of thirsty “please, please opt in to our new GDPR-compliant policies,” but as Chloe Watson points out at The Guardian, if you just don’t answer the emails, you will very likely never hear from these people ever again. Whether or not GDPR will make a substantial reduction in the volume of spam is debatable. All I know is that thanks to GDPR, I’m finally off several PR lists that I’ve been unable to get off for literally years.
What exactly is so funny about GDPR? Is it that it’s so boring that it loops around the continuum of the possible and back into the interesting? Is it the sudden chorus of corporate panic, unleashing the various absurdities documented in Owen Williams’ GDPR Hall of Shame? (My favorite: a GDPR notice sent on paper via postal mail). Is it that the blander, more business-like face of internet privacy is welcome in the post-Cambridge Analytica era? Are we so burned out by fear, alarmism, opacity, and the total lack of regulation that marks Web 2.0, that the unreadable yet consumer-friendly provisions of GDPR give us an odd sense of joy and comfort?
Or perhaps GDPR is funny because it turns the unbearable status quo of the internet around on itself. Today, May 25th, 2018, is the Freaky Friday of privacy. This time it’s the corporations imploding with fear and uncertainty because a bunch of Europeans handed them a big vague unreadable tome of legalese and told them they had to click on it before they’re allowed to do business in the European Union.
We don’t know what GDPR is about to do for us, the companies being regulated don’t know what GDPR is going to do to them, and really, the regulators probably don’t know what they’re about to do with GDPR, either.
I don’t know why that’s so funny, but it is.
Happy GDPR Day. Enjoy the memes.