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Skype, WhatsApp face tighter EU e-Privacy laws

Skype, WhatsApp face tighter EU e-Privacy laws

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(BRUSSELS) - Services such as Skype and WhatsApp would need to respect similar e-Privacy rules to those for traditional phone and text messaging services under plans to update EU data privacy rules unveiled Tuesday.

The new European Commission plans would overhaul a law which covers the confidentiality and security of electronic communications such as phone, e-mails or messaging services.

The Regulation sets out when users' consent is required for tracking online activities and for using customers' communication and location data for purposes such as marketing. It should also protect consumers against unsolicited commercial communications.

The rules will create new possibilities to process communication data and reinforce trust and security in the Digital Single Market, according to the Commission.

At the same time, the proposal aligns the rules for electronic communications with the new world-class standards of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation.

According to a recent Eurobarometer survey on ePrivacy, 92% of Europeans say it is important that personal information, such as their pictures and contact lists on their smart devices, are only accessed with their permission and that the confidentiality of their e-mails and online messages is guaranteed. A large majority (82%) also say it is important that tools for monitoring their activities online (such as cookies) are only used with their permission.

The draft ePrivacy Regulation strikes the right balance, said Digital Single Market Commissioner Andrus Ansip: "it provides a high level of protection for consumers, while allowing businesses to innovate."

The legislation introduces simpler rules on cookies, streamlining the "cookie provision", which resulted in an overload of consent requests for internet users. The proposal clarifies that no consent is needed for non-privacy intrusive cookies improving internet experience (e.g. to remember shopping cart history). Cookies set by a visited website counting the number of visitors to that website will no longer require consent.

The Commission is also proposing new rules to ensure that when personal data are handled by EU institutions and bodies privacy is protected in the same way as it is in Member States under the General Data Protection Regulation, as well as setting out a strategic approach to the issues concerning international transfers of personal data.

The proposal was generally welcomed by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC): "This reform is the opportunity to confront the widespread problem of online tracking", said its Director-General Monique Goyens: "Consumers must have an alternative to being under 24/7 commercial surveillance when using digital services."

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