EU hopes to impose data restrictions on Internet firms

The European Union hopes to impose new restrictions on Internet firms, limiting the ways they can use and sell data.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
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European Union lawmakers hope to revamp the regulation of Internet firms in order to protect consumer data.

According to Reuters, Internet companies including social networking site Facebook and search engine giant Google may have to get additional permission from their users before selling or using data in the future if the European Union gets its way.

The EU wants to give consumers an additional layer of data protection by imposing harsher regulations on firms with an online presence, giving users more control over their personal data as well as limiting what firms can do with data they gather.

They are not alone in this fight, as the data protection commissioner of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein has reportedly written to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, threatening a €20,000 fine if the social networking site continues to refuse allowing users to create anonymous accounts.

The kinds of data online companies collect and store on a regular basis include browsing habits, messages and photos. Sometimes, this data is used to tailor third-party advertising to a user, or is sold for market research purposes.

"Users must be informed about what happens with their data," said Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Member of the European Parliament keen on the reform told the publication. "And they must be able to consciously agree to data processing -- or reject it."

A number of firms, including Google and Facebook, are lobbying against the proposed reforms, arguing that such regulation could have a negative impact on business and innovation, especially considering the international nature of the digital platform.

The market for online data is massive. Current estimates suggest that over 60 hours of YouTube video is uploaded every minute, and click-through advertising can make large firms billions in revenue a year. However, the EU is determined to keep privacy and data protection regulations strict. EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in November that online service providers could find themselves in breach of antitrust law if they prevent customers from moving their personal data to rival services, and also proposed last year fines of up to two percent of turnover for companies that breach Europe's data protection rules.

The 27-country strong European Commission will begin debating the regulations within the coming months.

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