The European Commission (EC) wants stricter privacy rules to govern the online environment, bringing Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, and others on par with telecoms in terms of privacy.

Current online services and communications apps currently don't follow the same privacy rules that apply to telecom operators, but the EC believes they should. If the Commission's latest proposal gets approval, Europe's ePrivacy Directive would extend to services and apps including, but not limited to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp Messenger, Google's Gmail and Apple's iMessage.

Moreover, the EC also wants to implement some new rules regarding the use of cookies, aiming to make the so-called "cookie provision" more streamlined so that users would no longer get bombarded by a slew of consent requests. The Commission says that its new rules aim to put more control in the users' hands, offering an easy way to accept or decline cookie tracking and other identifiers.

For streamlining purposes, the new proposal notes that no consent should be required for cookies that improve the online experience and are not privacy-intrusive. An example of such positive cookie use would be remembering users' shopping card history so they could pick up where they left off.

Completing The EU Data Protection Framework

"Our proposals will complete the EU data protection framework," says First Vice-President Frans Timmermans. "They will ensure that the privacy of electronic communications is protected by up to date and effective rules, and that European institutions will apply the same high standards that we expect from our Member States."

Bringing online communications apps and services on par with telecoms would limit the amount of data that Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, and others can share. At the same time, web companies operating in the European Union (EU) would have to ensure that users' voice, email, or text conversations remain confidential, guaranteeing data protection.

Should this proposal be approved, it would also mean that services such as Gmail will not be able to keep serving ads based on users' email content unless the users explicitly opt-in. This, in turn, could deal a heavy blow in the companies' revenue.

New Business Opportunities For Telcos

On the other hand, the EC points out that the stricter rules could also open up some new business opportunities for traditional telecoms operators. More specifically, the Commission explains that once users give consent allowing telecoms to process their communications data, be it for content or metadata or both, telecoms would have additional opportunities to provide mode services using that data. For instance, telecoms could tap that data to create heat maps and help transport companies and public authorities with infrastructure projects.

Provisions Missing From The New EC Proposal

As TechCrunch points out, however, the new privacy proposal also lacks some mentions regarding ePrivacy. Earlier drafts included the ability to turn off cookies in browsers by default, as well as EU citizen's right to file class action lawsuits against companies that violate privacy rules. These mentions found in earlier drafts are now missing from the new proposal.

Nevertheless, these new rules are only proposals for now and it will take a while before they're finalized and ready to go into effect. The EC hopes to work everything out by May 2018, but it remains to be seen.

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