Google, Facebook and 
WhatsApp to face 
tougher online tracking restrictions

By Amelia Heathman – Technology

The European Commission has proposed new legislation to ensure the stronger privacy of individuals when it comes to using online messaging services including WhatsApp, iMessage and Gmail.

Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said the new strategy will “facilitate international data exchanges in the global digital economy and promote high data protection standards worldwide.”

Under the proposal, tech companies including Google and Facebook will have to guarantee the confidentiality of their customers’ conversations and make sure to get their consent before tracking them online, something that is used to serve customers with personalised ads.

At the moment, email services such as Gmail can scan customers’ emails to serve them targeted ads without explicit agreement from the users. The proposal would do away with this, something that online services are worried about as this could reduce their advertising revenue stream.

Consent for internet users in the European Union is something else the Commission wants to guarantee. Changes will be made to the way “cookies” are used on websites, which are used by tech companies to track online behaviour in order to deliver targeted ads. If the proposals pass, internet users will need to agree to websites using cookies or anything else on a site that is attempting to track their online activities.

The metadata of users will also be protected. Metadata records what time you visit a website, what device you accessed it from and how long you were on the site for. When metadata is linked to communication, e.g using Facebook Messenger or Skype, users who do not consent to the data being used will have it deleted or made anonymous. This is part of the vice-president for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip’s, plans to “ensure confidentiality of electronic communications and privacy.”

However, if you do consent to your metadata being used, companies will be able to process communication content, provided this complies with privacy safeguards. This will allow operators to process metadata to provide additional services and develop their business, something they have not been able to do previously.

The new regulations could also help do away with marketing calls. The proposal wants to ban unsolicited emails, texts and phone calls, if users have not given their consent. It would require that marketing callers display their phone number or use a special pre-fix that indicates a marketing call – so you can tell who is calling you and whether or not to reject it.

Companies that fail to abide by the new regulations will face fines of up to four per cent of their global turnover. Ulitmately, the larger the company the harsher the punishment.

The proposals will need to be approved by the European Parliament and member states before becoming law. The General Data Protection Regulation is set to come into law in May 2018, which allows users more control over their person data, so we could see the new proposals being set in stone around a similar time.

WhizzKid Repairs has contacted both Facebook and Google for comment on the proposals.

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