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By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS Dec 12 Messaging services such as
Microsoft's Skype and Facebook's WhatsApp face stricter rules on
how they handle customer data under new security laws due to be
proposed by the European Union, according to a draft document
seen by Reuters.
The EU executive wants to extend 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, according to the draft.
Web services will have to guarantee the confidentiality of
communications and obtain users' consent to process their
location data, mirroring similar provisions included in a
separate data protection law due to come into force in 2018.
Telecoms firms have long complained that companies such as
Alphabet Inc's Google, Microsoft and Facebook
are more lightly regulated, despite offering similar
The phone companies have called for European Union rules
specific to telecoms firms - known as the e-privacy directive -
either to be repealed or extended to everyone.
"This creates a void of protection of confidentiality for
the users of these services," the draft said, referring to OTTs.
"Moreover, it generates an uneven playing field between
these providers and electronic communications service providers,
as services which are perceived by users as functionally
equivalent are not subject to the same rules."
A European Commission spokeswoman declined to comment on the
draft but said the aim of the review was to adapt the rules to
the data protection regulation which will come into force in
2018 and simplify the provisions for cookies.
Telecom companies, barred by current rules from using
customer data to provide additional services and make more
money, will be able to use customer data with their consent,
according to the proposal.
It would also remove the obligation on websites to ask
visitors for permission to place cookies on their browsers via a
banner if the user has already consented through the privacy
settings of the web browser.
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.
"If browsers are equipped with such functionality, websites
that want to set cookies for behavioral advertising purposes may
not need to put in place banners requesting their consent
insofar as users may provide their consent by selecting the
right settings in their browser," the draft said.
Many have questioned the effectiveness of such cookie
banners which appear every time a user lands on a website
because people tend to accept them without necessarily reading
what that entails.
"While such banners serve to empower users, at the same
time, they may cause irritation because users are forced to read
the notices and click on the boxes, thus impairing internet
browsing experience," the draft said.
The proposal is set to be unveiled in January and may still
(Editing by David Clarke)