Europe has been a lot tougher than North America when it comes to user privacy laws governing the Internet.
The latest crackdown comes from the European Commission (EC) and relates directly to messaging apps and cookies. The EC has stated that messages cannot be stored, listened to, intercepted, scanned, tapped or otherwise unless consent is given by users.
What This Means
The EC is concerned that people using messenger services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are not protected or given the same rights that they would have in other circumstances (such as with a private phone call). Under the new EC ruling, companies must ask explicit permission from users to track or record or investigate any voice or text messages.
At present, many companies gather user information for advertising purposes. While some users might object to the storage of this data, many companies that offer services for free (like Facebook/WhatsApp) do so solely because of advertising dollars. In other words, these services might not be free if the EC prevents companies from selling information to advertisers.
The End of Free Messenger Services?
One extreme way of reading this new crackdown would be to ascertain that the inability to store and gather data from users will result in the shutdown of free messenger services. However, this is not necessarily the case. Instead, companies will simply have to ask permission from users to gather this type of data.
Of course, some companies will try to slip contract permissions into sign up screens and start screens, but it doesn’t seem like the EC will tolerate that kind of blackhat marketing either. Instead, companies will have to make it clear that data is being collected. There’s another possibility here as well.
Not Losing on Advertising Dollars
Companies like Facebook aren’t about to lose advertisers, since advertising dollars largely fund these companies and their products. Instead, there’s a strong possibility that anyone not agreeing to data collection will simply not be able to use these products for free. Some paid models might actually pop up when it comes to apps like WhatsApp.
But the EC makes it even more difficult to do so. The Commission has also stated that data can only be gathered for very good reason (like billing necessities). So what happens to a company that does not abide by this new EC ruling? The fine is steep.
The EC will fine any company caught not adhering to the new ruling 4% of that company’s global turnover. That’s a pretty big percentage for some major companies like Facebook.
North American Attitude
Why is the EU so strict when it comes to privacy but the EU is not? There are a few speculations. The first being that most of these companies are based in North America not in the EU (might that make a difference? Some think so).
The second is that the North American business model is different. Privacy tends to come after successful business, and most of these businesses cannot run without advertising - so it’s a toss up.
Either way, the EU has certainly cracked down on messenger apps and voice apps now. It will be interesting to see whether or not the rest of the global community follows suit.