The European Union is considering tough rules for how corporations handle Internet users’ personal data, greatly impacting tech titans like Google and Facebook.
“Only if consumers trust that their data is protected will they entrust companies with it,” said Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission, speaking at the DLD conference of tech industry leaders in Munich.
Reding argues for data-protection legislation to provide clearer, singular guidelines to replace the existing patchwork of 27 codes and save European businesses $3 billion in expenses. “We need individuals to be in control of their information,” she said.
Europe’s new data-protection rules will be issued on January 25 and will need approval by the national governments like France and Germany, who may resist giving up oversight on these vital privacy matters to the EU offices in Brussels.
In addition, U.S. companies like Facebook and Google will likely attempt to seek input in the process, which expected to take at least two years before requiring mandatory compliance.
The new rules will likely institute widespread changes in how people use the Internet and could upset already established practices of social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, which have attracted nearly a billion users, as well as emerging cloud computing services that allow businesses and individuals to store data on distant services for access anytime, anywhere.
The EU legislation will answer questions about who owns this kind of data, what companies can do with it, and for how long, greatly affecting the way many technology companies do business. The EU’s proposal is one of the strongest actions in a growing debate over data privacy expanding around the globe.
This past November, for example, Facebook and Google signed a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that will subject the firms to 20 years of independent audits. Last month, Facebook joined the EU to protect children online, and address growing concerns over children’s safety.
The EU’s new proposals grant broad, new rights to individuals, including a so-called “right to be forgotten” that would allow people to request that their information be erased and not disseminated online. They also create a right to portability, allowing people to easily transfer their personal information between different companies or services.
Finally, the legislation would significantly bolster regulators’ powers to fight data breaches, and aims to speed up how companies inform users and regulators when data is stolen or mishandled. Reding’s proposals would require companies that suffer a data leak to inform the data protection authorities and the individuals concerned without delay.
“As a general rule, without undue delay means for me within 24 hours,” she said.
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