European Commission extends privacy regulation to OTT providers

The European Commission (EC) has proposed new measures that will extend existing telecoms regulation to all electronic communication providers.

The proposed rules from the EC, announced on Tuesday, will extend the scope of current rules to all electronic communication providers, for the first time including OTT services such as WhatsApp, Messenger, Skype and Viber within their scope.

The rules cover the privacy of internet users, requiring content and metadata in electronic communications to be anonymised or deleted if users have not given their consent, unless it is being used for billing purposes.

In addition, unsolicited electronic communication would be banned if users have not consented.

Marketing callers will be required to display a phone number or use a special prefix to indicate that the call is for marketing purposes.

The rules also simplify the rules for the use of cookies on websites, with users able to manage accepting or refusing the tracking of cookies.

Enforcement of the rules will be carried out by national data protection authorities.

Brussels noted that the proposed rules update ones that came into force back in 2001 and are aligned with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) approved last year.

The EC's aim is for the rules to be adopted by 25 May 2018, which is when the GDPR will come into force. The consultation will run until 26 April 2017.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market said: "Our proposals will deliver the trust in the Digital Single Market that people expect.

“I want to ensure confidentiality of electronic communications and privacy.

“Our draft ePrivacy Regulation strikes the right balance: it provides a high level of protection for consumers, while allowing businesses to innovate."

In a joint statement from the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) and the GSMA, telcos welcomed the EC’s goal to protect confidentiality and establish a harmonised framework for communications data.

The statement said that a “customer-friendly” and “innovation-ready” approach would be needed to allow telcos to innovate and capitalise on technologies such as 5G and the Internet of Things.

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