E.U. Bill Would Buttress Users' Control of Web Data ; Technology Industry Condemns Plan as Likely to Undermine Free Sites

By Kevin J O'brien | International Herald Tribune, January 10, 2013 | Go to article overview

E.U. Bill Would Buttress Users' Control of Web Data ; Technology Industry Condemns Plan as Likely to Undermine Free Sites


Kevin J O'brien, International Herald Tribune


If approved, the proposal would replace an advisory panel with an agency with the power to levy fines on companies who violate rules on the use of information gathered online.

As the European Parliament prepares to overhaul the Continent's data protection laws, one legislator introduced a bill Wednesday that would create a new agency to enforce a series of measures giving Internet users greater control of their online information.

If approved, the proposal would replace an advisory panel to the European Commission with a regulator with the power to make decisions for the bloc's 27 members and levy fines of up to 2 percent of a company's revenue.

"I think my proposal reflects the majority opinion in Parliament, which is that we want to protect the online rights of consumers in order to help the digital economy flourish, not to control it," said Jan Philipp Albrecht, who is the main sponsor in Parliament of the stricter data protection measures.

Those measures would prohibit the use of a range of standard Web tracking and profiling practices companies use to produce targeted advertising unless consumers give their explicit prior consent.

Companies like Google and Facebook already use many of these practices -- vital to their business models -- but they have run afoul of individual European privacy regulators, many of whom bemoan the fact that they are not able to act in concert to bring these companies to heel.

The bill would also grant European consumers a fundamental new right: data portability, or the right to easily transfer one's personal posts, photos and video from one online service site to another.

The measures, as well as the creation of the data privacy regulator, were originally proposed by Viviane Reding, the European justice commissioner, last year. The lower house of Parliament is set to enter negotiations with representatives of individual E.U. members to rewrite the bloc's privacy regulations, which date to 1995.

Mr. Albrecht's proposal on Wednesday was quickly condemned by the technology industry.

A coalition of U.S., Asian and European businesses and advertisers criticized the plan, which would give Europeans much stronger legal protections to control their online identities than people elsewhere.

The ad hoc group, called the Industry Coalition for Data Protection, said the proposal would stifle the Web economy in Europe by undermining the ad-driven financing that makes possible most of the free, popular Web sites on the Internet.

The group, which includes the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union, said Mr. Albrecht's recommendation, compiled after nearly a year of parliamentary hearings on the issue, did not take into account concerns expressed by industry. …

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