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New online privacy rules in the EU. Standards will also apply to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger

New privacy rules could soon be in effect in the EU, allowing internet users to better control their settings when it comes to cookies and messaging. Services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger will have to get in line too, according to a proposal recently published by the European Commission.

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Most Europeans continue to value their privacy online, as 9 out of 10 Europeans believe it is important that the confidentiality of their emails and instant messaging is guaranteed and 8 out of 10 say it is important that tools for monitoring their online activities are only used with their permission, according to a 2016 Eurobarometer survey.

European Parliament‘s civil liberties committee recently discussed the plans by the European Commission and Marju Lauristin, the MEP responsible for steering the rules through Parliament, said that if companies providing communication services wanted to be trusted they needed to ensure confidentiality. Estonian S&D member Marju Lauristin, who will be writing a report on recommendations, called for stronger privacy safeguards for children active online.

Polish EPP member Michał Boni, who follows the file on behalf of his political group, said he was concerned about “unintended consequences” for publishers such as local online newspapers in terms of advertising, adding that the ePrivacy regulation should be consistent with the general data protection regulation. UK ECR member Daniel Dalton, who is also following it on behalf of his political group, said he feared that if people massively opted out of cookies, it could make it difficult for companies to offer free services.

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“The internet is all about advertising revenue, particularly free services, and cookies are vital for that,” he said.

In January the European Commission published a proposal saying that strict EU privacy standards for electronic communications should apply not only to traditional telecoms companies, but also to new providers of communications services, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype and Gmail.

Under the proposed changes it would also become easier for users to accept or refuse cookies so that they don’t have to click on a notice asking for cookie consent every time they visit a website. In addition protection against spam would be boosted. The idea is to adopt the new privacy rules by May 2018 when the EU’s new general data protection regulation enters into force.

John Beckett