EU sets tighter data protection rules

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Facebook and Google are to be forced to ask users' permission before downloading personal data under new EU privacy rules expected to be announced today.

The new data protection strategy also calls on internet companies to enable private information to be permanently deleted - the 'right to be forgotten', says the EU. Facebook currently keeps hold of the data when profiles are removed.

The strategy forms the first major overhaul of European data protection legislation for 15 years.

"The protection of personal data is a fundamental right.To guarantee this right, we need clear and consistent data protection rules," said vice president Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship.

"We also need to bring our laws up to date with the challenges raised by new technologies and globalisation. The Commission will put forward legislation next year to strengthen individuals' rights while also removing red tape to ensure the free flow of data within the EU’s Single Market."

There has been increasing concern in Europe over privacy, with high-profile investigations of Facebook and Google in particular over allegations that personal information was being wrongly collected, stored and used.

The new strategy calls for the collection and use of personal data to be kept to a minimum, and for users to be alerted when data is being collected.

The EU is particularly concerned about targeted advertising based on a user's browsing history.

"The proliferation of actors involved... and the technological complexity of the practice makes it difficult for an individual to know and understand if personal data is collected, by whom and for what purpose," reads the paper. It wants it to be made clearer to users when this is happening.

The EU's ePrivacy Directive already covers this issue, having been amended late last year to ask internet companies to alert users when their data's being downloaded.

What this could mean in practice is a pop-up appearing every time a cookie is sent.