EU wallops WhatsApp, iMessage and Gmail

Europe with flags - Wikimedia CommonsWhatsApp, iMessage and Gmail will face tougher rules on how they can track users under planned new laws being worked out by the European Union executive.

The web companies would have to guarantee the confidentiality of their customers’ conversations and get their consent before tracking them online to target them with personalised advertisements.

This means that Gmail and Hotmail will not be able to scan customers’ emails to serve them with targeted advertisements without getting their explicit agreement.

The European Commission extends some rules that now apply to telecom operators to web companies offering calls and messages using the internet, known as “Over-The-Top” (OTT) services, and seeks to close a regulatory gap between the telecoms industry and mainly US Internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

This means that telecoms companies will be allowed to use customer metadata, such as the duration and location of calls, as well as content to provide additional services and so make more money.

The proposal will also require web browsers to ask users upon installation whether they want to allow websites to place cookies on their browsers to deliver personalized advertisements.

All it is really doing is getting people’s permission, before they view a web page. Something most people will allow anyway.

But Online advertisers say such rules would undermine many websites’ ability to fund themselves and keep offering free services.

The proposal will need to be approved by the European Parliament and member states before becoming law.