MEPs vote to tighten EU online privacy rules

BRUSSELS: Tough new rules approved by a European Parliament committee at the end of last week could have serious implications for online messaging companies, such as Skype and Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

By a margin of 31 votes to 24, MEPs on the Civil Liberties Committee voted in favour of draft proposals that would update the European Union’s existing e-privacy rules to cover these internet-enabled services in addition to SMS and telecom providers.

According to a European Parliament press release, the MEPs are calling for a ban on “cookie walls”, which block access to a website if someone does not agree to his or her data being used by the site.

Secondly, they want to forbid tech companies from “snooping” on people’s devices, or tracking them without their clear approval through public hotspots or wi-fi shopping centres. (Vulpoint’s comment: Good luck for a clear an easy implementation)

“Privacy by default” settings should also become standard in all software used for electronic communications, the MEPs added, while consent must be sought for any use of personal data.

“E-privacy can give a great competitive advantage to European companies and help them to create a real European model for digital economy, with high quality services, consumer trust and free choice,” said Marju Lauristin, the Estonian socialist MEP who authored the text.

However, while privacy campaigners and left-wing MEPs praised the vote, centre-right MEPs on the committee rejected the proposals on the grounds that it would restrict the ability of companies to process consumer data.

The committee’s decision, which still needs to be approved by national governments and the European Commission, also sparked a furious response from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Europe.

The trade body said in a statement that the committee in effect had voted to allow the “expropriation of publishers’ work” despite the objections of a substantial minority of MEPs.

“News and other online services rely on data-driven, ad-funded business models to finance the creation of content. Content that must be given away for nothing will ultimately end up being worth nothing,” said Townsend Feehan, IAB Europe’s CEO.

“Well-intentioned MEPs believe they need to take these extreme measures to protect citizens. This is simply not true,” she added.

“Privacy rights are already expanded significantly in the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) adopted last year. And sadly, other fundamental rights, including the right to access diverse, quality information sources affordably, media freedom, and property rights, are being needlessly sacrificed.”

Sourced from European Parliament, IAB Europe; additional content by WARC staff

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