MEPs urged to tighten up ePrivacy rules against user tracking

14 Apr 2021

Image: © Grecaud Paul/Stock.adobe.com

A letter to MEPs signed by 30 different civil rights and privacy advocacy groups claim that the rules have been watered down.

Several civil society organisations, including Amnesty International, have called on MEPs to tighten up new privacy rules on web tracking and messaging services.

The ePrivacy Regulation seeks to update the rules that govern online messaging services, cookies and user tracking. The scope of the law includes requirements for detecting and removing child abuse content.

It will bring the likes of WhatsApp and Skype under its remit and subject them to rules similar to those for the telecoms industry.

First proposed in 2017, the regulation has been subject to much debate and tweaks. Member states are due to enter negotiations with the European Parliament and European Commission to finalise the rules.

In a letter to MEPs, several civil society and digital rights groups, such as Privacy International and Access Now, said that the rules had been weakened by the European Council on matters such as user tracking and monitoring, which flies in the face of the position adopted by the European Parliament nearly four years ago.

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The groups have taken issue with the removal of a provision that would protect users from tracking by cookies or other similar technologies and the removal of rules against so-called ‘cookie walls’ that coerce users into consenting to data collection in order to access a service. They are seeking the reinstatement of these provisions.

“Since the Parliament agreed its position in October 2017, public trust in data collection has been damaged by the Cambridge Analytica scandal,” the letter reads. “The ePrivacy regulation must send a clear message that the future belongs to business models which unify fundamental rights and innovation, rather than those who operate a personal data dragnet.”

The European Data Protection Board and the European Data Protection Supervisor have published opinions that back up their proposals, the letter said.

The letter added that the new regulation has the opportunity to plug a number of privacy issues that are not fully addressed by the GDPR.

It said that the ePrivacy regulation can update the rules “by closing loopholes and grey areas that have been widely abused by the tracking industry”.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin

editorial@siliconrepublic.com