European Commission privacy regulations Wiki Commons

For the past 10 years internet-based communications services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage, Viber, Skype or Google Duo, have offered a huge variety of advantages over the old-fashioned telephone. That includes the exemption from the EU’s strict communications privacy rules, a fact that the European Commission plans to change.

Everyone under the same roof

On Tuesday the European Union’s Commission proposed a newly drafted legislation in order to protect consumers’ online privacy. The EU expects to pass the legislation and bring all voice-calling and text-messaging apps under the existing regulatory umbrella for communications privacy.

Apps such as Skype and Facebook Messenger don’t currently fall under the same regulations since they are data services and don’t run on native functions of the network like phone calls and SMS do. The reason for that is that the rules for communications privacy were written back in 2002 before smartphones and internet voice-calling/ text-messaging became available widely.

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An early draft of the Proposal for a Regulation on Privacy and Electronic Communications was leaked in December. In a press release the European Commission has now officially proposed “high level of privacy rules for all electronic communications”.

According the the EU Commission, “92% of Europeans say it is important that their emails and online messages remain confidential. However, the current ePrivacy Directive only applies to traditional telecoms operators. Privacy rules will now also cover new providers of electronic communications services, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Gmail, iMessage, or Viber.”

That´s why they want to update the current Directive with a directly applicable Regulation for all people and businesses in the EU, where “[p]rivacy will be guaranteed for both content and metadata derived from electronic communications (e.g. time of a call and location)”.

Simplifying the Cookie Directive

The silver lining to the newly proposed legislation is the updated cookie policy proposal. The EU plans to simplify the rules on tracking citizens’ browsing activities by allowing website operators to rely on browser preferences as an expression of users’ willingness to accept or deny cookies.

The current law obligates websites to display a banner to their visitors from the EU, asking them if they would allow a cookie to be placed in their browser.

It provides a high level of protection for consumers while allowing businesses to innovate”, said Andrus Ansip, Commission Vice President for the Digital Single Market.

IABUK: “Too many restrictions”

Despite the fact that it acknowledged the improvements of the new draft compared to the leaked early draft leaked in December, the Internet Advertising Board U.K. said Tuesday that the proposal of the European Commission still imposes too many restrictions on online advertising.

A number of areas in the proposal … could not only seriously disrupt people’s browsing experience but effectively put the future of the web as we know at danger, with considerable knock-on effects on media pluralism and digital inclusion,” warned IABUK head of policy and regulatory affairs Yves Schwarzbart.

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