Is the EU to blame for further prompting privacy issues with OTT services?

The European Commission to looking to tighten its regulatory grip on US-based tech companies which are slowly replacing traditional telcos in the services they provide.

European Commission HQ
European Commission HQ

According to documents seen by the Financial Times (FT), the EU will  further tighten its grip on over-the-top services. 

Under the new regime, companies like Facebook owned Whatsapp and Skype owner Microsoft will be forced to comply with requests for data from law enforcement agencies.

The FT explains that at the moment such services fall into a legal grey area, as the bulk of regulation aimed at traditional telecoms groups doesn't affect companies like these, which are also predominantly American-based.

The documents seen by the FT  reveal that the European Commission, the EU's executive body, is to issue an initial announcement in September before setting out the provisions for a review of the EU's “ePrivacy” law later this year.

This will touch on how services such as WhatsApp comply with requests from security agencies and the ways in which companies can make money from customer data.

According to Commission officials, over-the-top services which let users make calls and messages via the internet should be regulated in a similar way to the services they have replaced like SMS text messaging and traditional voice calls.

The FT  says that big telecoms groups such as Spanish Telefónica and French telco Orange have long complained that the likes of Google, Microsoft and now Facebook have benefited from easier regulation. French telecoms regulator Arcep will decide in September whether to force Google, Viber and Skype to register as a telecoms provider.

Jacob Ginsberg, senior director at encryption company Echoworx told SCMagazineUK.com: “We have seen before the pressures that requests from security agencies and governments put on industry. The FBI set a dangerous precedent earlier this year when it asked Apple to build backdoors into its own technology. The EU must make sure that these new security and confidentiality provisions do not demand the same. Asking companies like WhatsApp to undermine the security that it has put in place to protect its customers will put the business on very shaky ground - and lead to distrust. To avoid an industry backlash similar to that of the IP Bill, the EU must reassure companies that the requests for customer information do not weaken the data protection rights of users.”