Google, Facebook May See Tougher Data Use Rules in Europe

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Print this article Print

Companies like Google and Facebook, which collect and reuse data from customers, could face new EU restrictions, according to a report.

Internet giants like Google and Facebook may find more limits on what they can do with the personal information they collect from their customers if the European Union tightens regulations, according to a story from Reuters.

The leaders of several EU nations are continuing their push for stricter controls, and proposed rules would give users more control over personal data that is collected by companies through Web searches, use of online shopping sites and other interactions online, the story reported. The rules would then limit the sale of such data to advertisers and others, "especially when people are unaware their data is being used in such a way," Reuters reported.

"Users must be informed about what happens with their data," Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German member of the European Parliament, told Reuters. "And they must be able to consciously agree to data processing—or reject it."

Albrecht is proposing a new law to help consumers maintain direct control over what kinds of information that companies can collect from them and sell to others, the story reported. Similar efforts have been in the works in the EU for the last couple years.

At the same time, companies such as Facebook and Google, which collect and sell such data, have been fighting the restrictions in the EU, according to Reuters.

For consumers, such rules would likely be welcome, but Internet companies say they are concerned that it might harm their operations.

Though the discussion in the EU presently only pertains to Europe, experts in the United States say that what eventually happens in Europe regarding privacy could certainly impact consumers in this country as well.

"With what's happening in Europe now, I think that this is growing recognition that what people do online is still private information and that people should have a say over how their information is being used," Jeffrey Child, an associate professor in the School of Communication Studies at Kent State University, told eWEEK.

A similar backlash hasn't yet happened in the United States, said Child, but it could be imminent depending on what happens in Europe.

"One thing we know about privacy is that it definitely is a cultural variable," he said. "Different places do have different norms and practices that are important. In the U.S., the dot-com revolution happened in the Silicon Valley, and it advanced interaction on the Web," meaning that Americans could be more open to and accustomed to wider online use patterns and consequences, he said.

"Other places may have different expectations," said Child. "But I think this is a growing trend, that people are becoming more informed about how companies are using their personal information."

The problem is worse when companies use people's private preference data, collected through Websites and other services, without asking them, said Child.