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European lawmakers seek to restrict data use by internet companies

The European Union is planning to put restrictions how big Internet companies like Google and Facebook are using their users’ data.

The 27-nation bloc wants Internet firms to get permission how data like internet browsing habits will be used in advertising, particularly for cases where users are not aware how their information are being used.

Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Member of the European Parliament, said: “Users must be informed about what happens with their data. And they must be able to consciously agree to data processing – or reject it.”

The foremost beneficiaries of users’ data, Facebook and Google, are lobbying against the new proposed regulation. Some other sectors relying on data like smart-meter makers, rail system, and health services have also raised their concerns.

A Green politician, Albrecht is set to announce next Wednesday a proposal how the new regualation will work so that data sold to advertisers by social networks and search engines can be controlled.

The plan, as seen by Reuters, is based on a proposal announced last January by the European Commission offering a more stringent data protection plan.

It is expected that the 27-nation block, the Commission, and the European Parliament will convene to agree on the rules in the next few months.

Meanwhile, Internet firms fear that the new regulation will hamper the booming business.

“We are concerned that some aspects of the report do not support a flourishing European digital single market and the reality of innovation on the internet,” chief of EU policy for Facebook Erika Mann said in a statement.

Mann added that the digital market has a global imprint, and includes critical partners in the United States.

Currently, the amount of online data being collected and sold is growing exponentially. Youtube videos are being uploaded at a rate of 60 hours per minute.

Privacy advocates in the United States think that every Facebook user contributes about $10 dollars to the company by clicking on ads. Facebook claims to have over a billion active users so far.

The German member of EU Parliament Albrecht  proposed a fine ranging from 0.5 to 2.0 percent of yearly turnover for violating the law protecting customer data–which can mean disclosing the data or losing them.

But high-ranking politicians in the EU parliament think that a fine higher than 1 percent of the annual turnover may force big data out of the bloc. The final report of Albrecht will be voted on this coming April.

The practice of selling customer data to advertisers had become unpopular recently, prompting lawmakers to push for a more rigid regulation. Last December, the hugely popular Facebook-owned image-editing service Instagram lost almost a quarter of its total users within a week of announcing its plan to sell photos of its users to advertisers.

Privacy advocates hit at big companies, saying that they do not implement enough consideration to address privacy concerns of their users.

Privacy lobbyists say companies do not take sufficient consideration of users’ privacy concerns.

“They may do so if they feel that their reasons for doing so are more compelling than the individual’s right to privacy,”  privacy advocate in Brussels Joe McNamee said.

Albrecht said that there would be exceptions to his plan. He said, for example, that data companies can still send junk email to users based on data they had gathered.

source: reuters

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