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New EU Privacy Laws to Govern Web Companies

The European Commission is proposing to enforce new rules (that currently apply only to traditional telecom operators) to web companies such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. According to the Commission, this proposal aims to align the rules for electronic communications with the new world-class standards of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. These rules aim to restrict/limit the access to consumer data.

Users will now have greater control over their data privacy. User consent will now be required when websites want to place cookies on users’ devices so as to track user activities and target ads to them. The consent from users applies only to cookies that may intrude users’ privacy, and not to other cookies that probably improve users’ experience on the website. For instance, for certain shopping websites, cookies that keep track of user activity are useful and can help better user experience on the platform.

The new rules will also force the default settings of web browsers to not allow for advertising based on users’ browsing habits. “It’s up to our people to say yes or no”, said Andrus Ansip, Commission vice-president for digital single market.

On the brighter side, if the user has already consented through the privacy settings of a particular browser, the proposal will make it less burdening for websites to not ask permission each time before placing cookies on their browsers. Additionally, cookies set by a visited website counting the number of visitors to that website will no longer require consent. Previously websites used a “cookie banner” that asked users’ permission before collecting their activities and data. This will likely be banned, as the commission feels that users do not really read the terms and accepts them nevertheless.

The rules work both ways. According to The Financial Times, media companies will be able to ban online readers who use ad-blocking software. Since, detecting an ad blocker is the same as accessing data, it is considered illegal. However, detecting an ad-blocker does not need consent.

The commission is awaiting approval of The European Parliament and member states of the Council of Europe. The new rules are predicted to be approved by May 25, 2018.

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