EU blocks controversial ePrivacy rules

The European Union’s proposed ePrivacy regulations - which aim to put the likes of Skype and WhatsApp on a level playing field with established telecoms services - have stalled after member states failed to reach an agreement about the overall scope.

The draft directive was proposed in January 2017, with the goal of holding online communications and email services to the same standards faced by telecoms providers.

Member states must reach a common position on the regulations before entering into talks with the European Commission and European Parliament, but they have failed to agree on rules covering tracking cookies, detection and deletion of illegal material and consent.

The draft proposals require that firms must gain users’ consent before tracking their online activities and must ensure that all electronic communications remain confidential without the user’s consent.

Representatives at meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee of the EU Council in Brussels on Friday again failed to break the impasse.

Tech companies and some member states have argued that the proposals would place too many constraints on online services, although privacy advocates have responded that the rules are long overdue.

Diego Naranjo, head of policy at European Digital Rights, said the failure to move forward with the rules was a step backwards. “By first watering down the text and now halting the ePrivacy Regulation, the council takes a stance to protect the interests of online tracking advertisers and to ensure the dominance of big tech."

The current Finnish presidency of the EU is due to submit a progress report on the regulations to EU telecoms ministers on 3 December. After that the next steps are unclear, with the possibility that Croatia - which takes over the rotating EU presidency on 1 January - may seek to resume negotiations.

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