New EU efforts to protect privacy on the Web

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The European Commission will ‘significantly’ increase funding in the next few years to support the development of technologies which protect user privacy on the internet, Vice President Franco Frattini announced yesterday (4 December).

Speaking at the Microsoft Innovation Day, Frattini underlined the importance the Commission attributes to PETs, the acronym for Privacy Enhancing Technologies. “We support the development of PETs. The Commission will encourage consumers to use PETs through awareness raising campaigns. We will provide money for data protection and privacy projects”, he said, addressing an audience of ICT experts.

The Commission Vice President in charge of security issues went further, specifying that the EU contribution to these technologies in the current framework programme for research will overtake the funding allocated in the previous programme. “Europe contributed over 18 million euros to PET research as part of its 6th Framework Programme. This is expected to increase significantly in the coming years”, said Frattini. Yet it remains unclear as to whether there will be a real annual increase in such funding. The 6th programme ran for five years from 2002 to 2006, while the 7th lasts seven years, from 2007 to 2013.

Frattini’s announcements follow the recent publication of a report on social networking by ENISA, an EU internet security watchdog. In the report, ENISA raised similar concerns in relation to privacy and public security.

The EU strategy on this issue has already included the launch in September of the first European Security Research and Innovation Forum (ESRIF), involving representatives of the public and private sectors. “We see the importance of bringing people together to further PET innovations”, underlined Frattini.

A number of technologies are already available to prevent privacy-related and security risks on the Web. These include the automatic expiry of private information after a certain period of time, or the use of encryption software. But projects for the next 5-10 years are ongoing. Some of them are showcased in the technology park set up by Microsoft for the Innovation Day, now in its fourth edition.

Microsoft is currently working on the creation of a huge database capable of storing personal information used for a wide range of activities. “You will be able, for example, to hire a babysitter you have never met before using the internet. And she will get the necessary information about you in order to guarantee her security as well”, explained Flora Goldthwaite, Microsoft programme manager.

Among other ideas is a system to track children’s activities on the internet, allowing them to use ‘fun credits’ to watch television or play games. To get the credits, children could be requested to do homework.

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