This article is part of our special report Data protection.
Consumer organisations and industry are squaring for battle over how far smartphone users’ personal data can be used under the European Union’s proposed data protection regime.
Large institutions and tiny app-makers alike have been accused in recent months of mishandling personal data.
Last week the Wall Street Journal alleged that internet giant Google and advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple Inc.’s internet browser on their iPhones and computers, allowing them to track the Web-browsing habits of people who intended this surveillance to be blocked.
The companies used special computer code that tricks Apple's Safari Web-browsing software into letting them monitor many users, the Journal reported.
Consent required under draft rules
Draft rules proposed by Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding would require some form of consent from smartphone users before companies could use the personal information contained in applications.
Although the rules cover ordinary computer users, their effects will be keenly felt in the booming smartphone sector, in which there is fierce competition amongst companies creating ‘apps’ for phone users.
Such tech companies frequently offer products for free and get income from online ads that are customised using data about customers.
Reding’s draft rules would enable protection of personal information and ban companies from data-mining, said Jérémie Zimmerman, a spokesman for civil liberty group Squaring the Net.
Fears the regulation may not stick
There are doubts as to how strong the final data protection rules will be, however, amid fears a proposed regulation to rein in the private sector might eventually be watered down to a directive, giving rise to nuanced interpretations across the EU’s member states.
Kimon Zorbas, the vice president of IAB Europe, which represents the online advertisers, told EURACTIV the ability of companies to analyse and collect data “affects innovation”, and the productivity of such companies was not be taken into account by the draft data protection rules.
“The reality is the world is moving into data analysis and our economies will not compete without being able to collect, store and analyse data,” Zorbas said.
The debate over privacy is raging in the US as well, where lawmakers trying to reassure a worried public have introduced more than a dozen privacy bills in Congress. The Obama administration has called for a Privacy Bill of Rights to encourage companies to adopt better practices.