WhatsApp, Gmail roped
into tougher EU privacy proposal
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[January 10, 2017]
By Julia Fioretti
(Reuters) - Online messaging and email services such as WhatsApp,
iMessage and Gmail will face tough new rules on how they can track
users under a proposal presented by the European Union executive on
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.
The proposal by the European Commission extends 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, seeking to
close a perceived regulatory gap between the telecoms industry and
mainly U.S. Internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft <MSFT.O>.
Tuesday's proposal would allow telecom companies to use customer
metadata - such as the duration and location of calls - to provide
additional services and make more money, something they are barred from
doing under the current rules.
The review of the so-called e-privacy law will also force web browsers
to have their default setting as not allowing personalized online
advertising based on browsing habits. Instead, users will be asked to
opt in to allow websites to place cookies on their browsers.
"It's up to our people to say yes or no," said Andrus Ansip, Commission
vice-president for the digital single market.
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.
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A Whatsapp App logo is seen behind a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone that is
logged on to Facebook in the central Bosnian town of Zenica,
February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
adverstisers have warned that overly strict rules would undermine many websites'
ability to fund themselves and keep offering free services. They say the data
they use can not identify the user and is therefore low risk, making asking for
consent every time too onerous.
The proposal scraps the obligation on websites to ask visitors for permission to
place cookies on their browsers via a banner every time they land on it if the
user has already consented through the privacy settings of the web browser.
The "cookie banner" has been lambasted as ineffective because people tend to
accept them without necessarily reading what that entails.
Companies falling foul of the new law will face fines of up to 4 percent of
their global turnover, in line with a separate data protection law set to enter
into force in 2018.
The proposal will need to be approved by the European Parliament and member
states before becoming law.
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Alison Williams)
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