The European Union has announced plans to extend some of its telecom rules to online service providers, such as Microsoft and Facebook. Under the new laws, instant messaging and internet voice-call services would face similar security and privacy requirements to those governing SMS text messages and mobile calls.
Facebook, who recently introduced end-to-end encryption for mobile messaging service WhatsApp, said the proposed changes would mean they could no longer guarantee the security of their communications.
Up until now, companies like Facebook and Microsoft have fallen outside the EU Commission’s regulation of the telecoms industry. This means they had complete control over who had access to their consumer data, despite an increase in government requests for the information in recent years.
The social media giant said it was “fundamentally incorrect” to apply the same rules to online services because they “may not have access to this type of data, which is typically held by traditional telecoms services providers”.
Facebook also called for the provision requiring user consent for the processing of traffic and location data to be deleted. It says “an obligation to make this information anonymous and to delete this information in the event that users withdraw consent” were “simply inappropriate and do not apply as a practical matter in an online services environment”. Furthermore, it claims this area has already been covered in the new general data-protection regulation, which comes into force from May 2018.
It also noted that a lack of consistency between member states in their implementation of rules on unsolicited marketing had led to “a not insignificant degree of regulatory uncertainty for businesses, and contributed to a general lack of transparency for users”.
WhatsApp to share user data with Facebook
Users will be unable to opt out of their data being shared with the social network, but have been given 30 days to opt out of their information being used for ad targeting on the site. Whatsapp says it will not place ads on its own platform. However, it will permit businesses offering customers’ airline updates, banking transactions and other services to contact its users.
WhatsApp said that co-ordinating with Facebook would allow it to improve its service, and that its end-to-end encryption of messages would mean user privacy would be maintained.
A key factor in Whatsapp’s growth and popularity has been its ad-free business model. Users have reacted angrily to its latest announcement. They feel like their private information will now be compromised as part of the deal with Facebook. The EU Commission is set announce its new rules in September as part of the scheduled revamp of the EU telecoms framework. It will be interesting to see if this has any impact on Facebook’s plans for user data and targeted advertising.
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