EU Seeks Stronger Online Privacy Laws

 
 
By Brian Prince  |  Posted 2010-11-04
 
 
 

The European Union wants to overhaul its privacy laws and tighten Web users' control over their information on social networking and other sites.

The push for new rules follows continued concerns about online privacy due spotlighted by recent controversies, such as the situation with Google Street View. On Nov. 3, the U.K.'s Information Commissioner ruled there was a "significant breach of the Data Protection Act" when Google Street View vans collected private information from unprotected wireless networks.

"The protection of personal data is a fundamental right," said Vice President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, in a statement. "To guarantee this right, we need clear and consistent data protection rules. We also need to bring our laws up to date with the challenges raised by new technologies and globalization. The Commission will put forward legislation next year to strengthen individuals' rights while also removing red tape to ensure the free flow of data within the EU's Single Market."

The commission is accepting public input on the rules through Jan. 15 via the Commission's Website. The rules, the commission proposed, should require that businesses clearly tell customers how, why, by whom and for how long their data is collected and used. People should also be able to give their informed consent to the processing of their personal data.

Other goals include reducing discrepancies between EU data protection rules and a lack of clarity about which country's rules apply to businesses. While the EU considers updating its data privacy rules, Facebook has been dealing with the U.S. government to address concerns about the sharing of user IDs (UIDs).

Just recently, the company revealed it had suspended several developers caught selling UIDs in the wake of media reports that the data was being leaked to applications. The situation caused Reps. Edward Markey and Joe Barton, the co-chairman of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, to demand more information from Facebook. The company responded to the congressmen Oct. 29 in a letter, which was released this week. In it, Facebook stressed that no private user information was compromised in the situation.

"The sharing of UIDs by Facebook with third-party applications does not involve the sharing of any private user data and is in no sense a privacy 'breach,'" wrote Marne Levine, vice president of global public policy for Facebook. "On the contrary, the sharing of UIDs is critical to people's ability to use third-party applications on the Facebook Platform."

"Facebook needs to protect personal consumer information to ensure that getting connected doesn't mean being unwittingly friended by data brokers and marketers," Markey said in a statement. "No one likes being friends with someone who invades their privacy."

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