Skype and Facebook face tough data rules in EU

EU and country flags - Wikimedia CommonsMessaging services such as Microsoft’s Skype and Facebook’s WhatsApp will face stricter rules on the way they handle customer data.

New privacy laws due are to be proposed by the European Union, which could give messaging services a few headaches.

The EU wants to extend some rules that now only apply to telecom operators to web companies offering calls and messages using the internet, known as “Over-The-Top” (OTT) services, according to the draft.

Under the move, messaging services must guarantee the confidentiality of communications and obtain users’ consent to process their location data, mirroring similar provisions included in a separate data protection law due which will operate in 2018.

Advertisers will also face strict rules on how they can target ads at web users based on their browsing history.

It will solve a few fairness problems in the online world. Telecoms companies have long complained that groups such as Alphabet Inc’s Google, Microsoft and Facebook are more lightly regulated, even though they offer similar services.

The phone companies want European Union rules specific to telecoms firms to either be repealed or extended to everyone. Obviously they want them repealed but if they can’t have that knowing that Google and Microsoft are suffering in the same way will make them feel better.

Lise Fuhr, director general of ETNO, the European telecoms operators association said that if Europe wants a Silicon Valley, it needs radical regulatory simplification. We won’t get new digital services unless we overhaul e-Privacy.

The draft proposals would prohibit the automatic processing of people’s data without their consent. Advertisers say such automatic processing is low risk as it involves data that can not identify the user.

Fines for breaking the new law will be steep at up to four percent of a company’s global turnover.

A Commission spokeswoman said the aim of the review was to adapt the rules to the data protection regulation which will come into force in 2018 and simplify the provisions for cookies.

Cookies are placed on web surfers’ computers and contain bits of information about the user, such as what other sites they have visited or where they are logging in from. They are widely used by companies to deliver targeted ads to users.

It would also remove the obligation on websites to ask visitors for permission to place cookies on their browsers via a banner if the user has already consented through the privacy settings of the web browser.