European Union data-protection rules, which have triggered probes of online companies including Google Inc. and Facebook Inc., need revamping to meet the needs of Internet users and give them more control over personal data.
While the 27-nation EU’s privacy rules have so far “stood the test of time,” social networking sites, Internet-connected mobile phones and targeted advertising on the Internet create the need for a “shift of focus,” EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said.
“We need to find ways to empower web surfers,” Reding said in a speech in Brussels today. “Internet users must have effective control of what they put online and be able to correct, withdraw or delete it at will.”
Google and Facebook are among several Internet companies that have come under the EU’s scrutiny in the past few months for possible privacy-rule breaches for the way they use personal data. A group of data-protection officials from 30 European countries in a letter last month criticized Facebook, the largest social-networking site, for putting users’ personal information and privacy at risk with recent policy changes.
The same group has been pushing search-engine operators including Google, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo! Inc. to limit the amount of time they store search records to no more than six months. Because the companies rely on users’ queries to target advertising, shortening the time that search engines keep such records may cut into advertising revenue.
“European regulators need to ensure that Internet users can trust online operators with their personal information,” said Reding. “Operators of all online tools and services must be very clear that they are obliged to respect the fundamental right of protection of personal data.”