EU countries fail to agree on privacy rules governing WhatsApp, Skype

The logo of the messaging application WhatsApp (C) is pictured on a smartphone screen in Taipei, Taiwan, 26 September 2017 (reissued 14 May 2019). [EPA-EFE/RITCHIE B. TONGO]

EU efforts to create a level playing field between telecoms operators and Facebook’s WhatsApp and Microsoft unit Skype stalled on Friday (22 November) after member countries failed to agree on the scope of proposed rules.

The European Commission kicked off the process two years ago with its proposal for an ePrivacy regulation which would ensure that tech companies offering online messaging and email services would be subjected to the same tough rules as telecoms providers.

Disagreements between EU countries on complex issues such as rules for cookies tracking users’ online activities, provisions on detecting and deleting child pornography and consent requirements however have stymied the process.

EU countries need to come up with a stance before they start talks to thrash out a common position with the Commission and European Parliament.

EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels on Friday again reached an impasse, EU officials said.

Tech companies and some EU countries have criticised the ePrivacy proposal for being too restrictive, putting them at loggerheads with privacy activists who back the plan.

“By first watering down the text and now halting the ePrivacy Regulation, the (European) Council takes a stance to protect the interests of online tracking advertisers and to ensure the dominance of big tech,” said Diego Naranjo at digital civil rights group European Digital Rights (EDRi).

It is not clear what the next step will be. Croatia, which takes over the EU presidency Jan. 1, may seek to resume the negotiations.

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