EU data reforms proposed

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Internet companies may have to get more permission to use information if EU legislators give users more control over their personal data.

EU legislators want to limit companies’ ability to use and sell data, such as internet browsing habits, to advertising companies, especially when people are unaware their data is being used in such a way.

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

Facebook and Google, who were among the first to profit from users’ data, have been lobbying against the curbs.

Albrecht, a Green politician, intended to announce yesterday a plan to make sure users of search engines and social networks could control how much of their data was sold to advertisers.

A report he produced, which was seen by Reuters, builds on a proposal announced by the European Commission last January for tougher data protection.

The European Parliament, the commission and the bloc’s 27 countries will seek an agreement on the rules in coming months.

Internet companies worry that it will have a chilling effect on a thriving 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,” Erika Mann, the head of EU policy for Facebook, said yesterday.

The digital market was inescapably global in nature, and included important partners in the US, she said.

The amount of online data collected and sold has grown rapidly. Currently, more than 60 hours of YouTube content is uploaded every minute around the world.

US privacy advocates estimate a Facebook user can make $10 (R86) a year for the company by clicking on adverts. At last count, thefirm said it had more than 1 billion users.

Albrecht said national authorities might be allowed to levy fines ranging from 0.5 percent to 2 percent of annual turnover for compromising customer data, including losing or divulging the data.

However, high-ranking politicians in the European Parliament are lobbying for the maximum fine to be no more than 1 percent of turnover, saying anything higher could push big data firms offshore.

Albrecht’s final report will be voted on in April.

The push to regulate the use of data comes as consumers appear to be turning against the practice. Last month image editing and hosting application Instagram dropped an idea to sell users’ photos to advertisers after it lost almost a quarter of its users within a week of announcing the plan.

Privacy lobbyists say that firms 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,” said Joe McNamee, a privacy advocate in Brussels.

Albrecht said there would be exceptions in his proposed curbs. For example, a company would still be able to send junk mail to a user based on data it had gathered itself. – Claire Davenport from Brussels for Reuters


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