EU to tighten regulatory grip on WhatsApp, Facebook and others

15 Aug 2016

New documents obtained from within the EU have revealed the governmental organisation is to tighten its regulatory grip on US-based telecoms services like WhatsApp in the coming months.

Expected to be announced officially in September, the EU intends to bring all services that could fall under a telecoms umbrella under the same legal umbrella.

Currently, regulation and control of telecom services within the EU only falls under services like standard voice calls or SMS, but does not include the largely US-based apps and services like WhatsApp and Skype.

According to documents obtained by the Financial Times, this soon-to-be introduced legislation will cover these “over-the-top” services, requiring them to fall under one universal set of “security and confidentiality provisions”.

The new regulatory efforts come following years of complaints from some of Europe’s largest telecoms operators, including Spain’s Telefónica and France’s Orange, which have argued that companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft are not placed under the same amount of scrutiny as them.

Also revealed within the documents being put together by the European Commission (EC) are the regulations facing services like Skype that allow you to ring a person’s phone number online.

Member states already at work

As part of the draft legislation, these services will have to fall under stricter European rules requiring them to add EU-enforced services, like free access to emergency services numbers.

However, when it comes to calls made internally within an app without the use of an established phone number, it’s expected that they will not need to fall under the same stringent legislation.

In the meantime, EU countries are expected to try tighten their own internal regulatory legislation with France’s regulator, ARCEP, already working on legislation that could force Google, Facebook and others to become telecoms providers.

One of the EU countries most opposed to introducing legislation for telecom apps and services has been the UK, but following the Brexit vote its influence over proceedings is likely to wane as time goes by and a leave date is confirmed.

WhatsApp with phone image via focal point/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic