Internet giants may be hurt by EU privacy law

Posted on January 12, 2017

GOOGLE, Facebook, Inc. and other Internet companies will be covered by strict new European Union privacy rules that seek to limit access to consumers’ data.

The EU unveiled draft rules in Brussels Tuesday that would give online users more control of their settings and limit the “overload of consent requests” for cookies people encounter when browsing the Web. The rules would extend the EU’s ePrivacy law beyond telecommunications operators to include “new providers of electronic communications services, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Gmail, iMessage, or Viber,” the regulator said.

“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. “Our draft ePrivacy Regulation strikes the right balance: it provides a high level of protection for consumers, while allowing businesses to innovate.”

The latest proposal is among a series of regulatory fences companies have seen pop up as watchdogs seek to curb unwarranted processing of people’s personal data by online companies.

The Brussels-based commission hasn’t shied away from going after US tech giants on other fronts. Google has been fighting EU antitrust probes for years, while Apple, Inc. in August was ordered to pay as much as €;13 billion ($14.6 billion) in unpaid taxes, plus interest, to Ireland.

Industry groups said the EU may be imposing stricter limits on communications companies than on other providers who process similar data.

“Unless we overcome the current inconsistencies and restrictions, telecom operators in Europe will be prevented from expanding consumer choice and offering new competitive services to citizens,” ETNO, a group of European phone operators, and GSMA, the body representing mobile operators, said in a joint statement.

Others complained that the EU was on the verge of a regulation overload with the second group of proposals on top of the year-old data-protection rules.

“This proposal risks incoherence and confusion with the General Data Protection Regulation requiring one approach to safeguarding privacy and ePrivacy another,” said James Waterworth, Europe vice-president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represents technology companies, including Google.

The proposal for a new ePrivacy law comes just months after the EU adopted a complete overhaul of the bloc’s data protection rules. They will take effect in May 2018 and for the first time give national privacy regulators the power to fine companies as much as 4% of their global annual sales for violations.

The same fining powers would also apply in case of breaches of the latest EU draft rules, which still need the backing of the European Parliament and EU ministers. -- Bloomberg