Tuesday 16 January 2018

Online messaging and email giants face EU privacy crackdown

Andrus Ansip, European Commission vice-president for the digital single market
Andrus Ansip, European Commission vice-president for the digital single market

Julia Fioretti in Brussels

Online messaging services such as WhatsApp, iMessage and Gmail face tough new EU rules on how they can track users which could hit advertising revenue.

Under a proposal presented by the European Commission yesterday, digital media companies will have to guarantee the confidentiality of their customers' conversations and get their consent before tracking them online to serve them personalised ads.

Email services such as Gmail and Hotmail will not be able to scan customers' emails to serve them targeted ads without getting their explicit agreement.

Most free online services rely on advertising to fund themselves, raising fears that the proposal will hit revenue.

The European Commission plan extends 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. It would close a perceived regulatory gap between the telecoms industry and mainly US tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft. The changes would also 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 require web browsers to ask users on installation whether they want to allow websites to place cookies on their browsers.

A previous leaked version would have forced browsers to set the default settings as not allowing cookies.

"It's up to our people to say yes or no," said Andrus Ansip, Commission vice-president for the digital single market.

Cookies track information about web users, such as other sites they have visited or where they are logging in from.

They are widely used by companies to target advertising.

Online advertisers have warned that overly strict rules would undermine websites' finances.

They say the data they use can not identify the user and is therefore low risk, making asking for consent every time too onerous. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

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