After four years of negotiations, EU member states have finally reached an agreement to reforming the e-privacy directive

Back in 2017, the European Commission announced a proposed update the ePrivacy directive from 2002, so that it covered all businesses that offer digital communication services, such as VoIP and other emerging data mediums. At the time, the telecom operators argued that while they agreed with the principles of confidentiality of communications, they were concerned that so-called over-the-top (OTT) players, like Facebook, would not face similar regulations.

The operators had lobbied for the right to use metadata collected from their networks to provide commercial services in the same way that the OTT players can; for example, Google already has access to and makes use of the GPS data from a users phone, so the operator should be allowed to similarly monetise that data.

Now, something of a compromise is being proposed, with work led by the Portuguese presidency of the EU suggesting that metadata may be processed for billing and detecting fraud, as well as for public services, such as tracking public movement during the pandemic, provided the users give their permission. Mobile phone makers would also face stricter controls on their use of personal data, primarily only able to do so with the owners permission. 

A final text for the new regulations must still be drafted before it can be voted into law. Member states would have two years to meet the new privacy requirements.

Both the GSMA and the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) welcomed the news, having long lobbied the EU to impose stricter e-privacy rules. In a joint statement, they noted that this was an important step in aligning e-privacy laws with General Data Protection Rules (GDPR). However, despite these changes, Europe still faces an uphill battle when it comes to unified regulations.

“If regulatory asymmetries linked to the discrepancy between e-privacy and GDPR persist, European players will face hurdles: this is both a matter of competitiveness and ability to develop European data services inspired by European values,” read the statement.

The EU has been developing and enhancing its privacy laws for a number of years now, not only to safeguard data in the hands of network operators, but also in those of OTT companies. Yesterday, the EU privacy watchdog EDPS backed the Digital Markets Act, proposed last year as a way to curb the influence of FAANG companies and requiring them to do more to tackle illegal content and increase transparency when it comes to political advertising, among a raft of new stipulations. 


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