Online messaging and email giants face European Union privacy crackdown

Kari ReynoldsJan 12, 2017

But the new proposal aims to extend that to other services, including iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Gmail and WhatsApp.

Privacy advocates say the new ePrivacy regulation, which is an updated version of a 1995 directive that allowed for some differences in national law, complements a broad data protection overhaul that was rubberstamped previous year and will go into effect in 2018.

But the latest proposals can not become law until the bloc's 28 member states and the European Parliament agree to wave them through-leaving plenty of wiggle room for industry lobbying. Additionally, it aims to set a strategic approach to issues concerning the global transfer of personal data.

The web players will have to guarantee the confidentiality of their customers' conversations and ask for their consent before tracking them online to serve them personalized ads. Users would have control of their setting and easy ways to accept and refuse tracking cookies and identifiers in the event of privacy risks.

Users of electronic communications services would also obtain a new right to object to the processing of their electronic communications data, and could potentially win compensation from communication providers if they have "suffered material or non-material damage as a result of an infringement" of the new rules by those companies.

Lumping in communications apps with telecoms providers actually limits the amount of data WhatsApp, Facebook and others can share, and web companies operating in the European Union would have to guarantee that users' voice, text or email conversations are confidential. "They will ensure that the privacy of electronic communications is protected by up to date and effective rules, and that European institutions will apply the same high standards that we expect from our Member States".


"I want to ensure confidentiality of electronic communications and privacy", Andrus Ansip, EU vice president for the digital single market, said in an e-mailed statement.

A copy of the upcoming Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation leaked early in December, but only yesterday has the European Commission acknowledged its legitimacy.

What that means is that the ePrivacy regulation would now cover companies like Facebook and Google.

Clearly these revenue streams are important to such companies at the moment.

Online advertisers also warned that overly strict rules would undermine the ability of many websites to fund themselves and offer free services. They say the data they use cannot identify the user and is therefore low risk, making asking for consent every time too onerous. Changes will be made to the way "cookies" are used on websites, which are used by tech companies to track online behaviour in order to deliver targeted ads. He explained that those companies "operate in the background and sort of facilitate the buying and selling of advertising rather than the ones that the user directly engages with".

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