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EU Outlines Online Privacy Recommendations


In Europe, there's a movement to provide better protections for Web users. The European Union has outlined tough new data privacy recommendations that it wants to become law. Among its targets, the American companies Facebook and Google. Google just announced a new privacy policy that would track all the Web movements of its registered users.

Teri Schultz is in Brussels and reports on EU efforts to strengthen online protections of personal information.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: It may sound basic but it's a right the EU feels the need to reinforce.

VIVIANE REDING: Personal data belongs to the person.

SCHULTZ: EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding wants citizens to have more control over their online identities. She's spent years working on EU law related to digital rights and if her plan passes the European Parliament, it would overhaul existing 1995 laws and harmonize 27 national systems under one set of rules.

REDING: Citizens will have to know how their data is processed. To use the data, it will be necessary to have been given the explicit consent by the citizens.

SCHULTZ: The laws would apply to all companies that gather private data. If they don't get permission before using it or they break any of the other new regulations, they can be fined a million dollars or up to 2 percent of their annual income.

Privacy advocate Andrew Keen says he's pleased the EU is siding with consumers who may want to reclaim their personal lives from the Internet. Keen says he killed his own Facebook account but he reminds everyone else:

ANDREW KEEN: The technology doesn't know how to forget. When we post something - that drunken photo, that inappropriate tweet - it's going to last forever unless Viviane Reding has her way.

SCHULTZ: Keen is referring to another part of the new proposal, the right to be forgotten. That would mean if you asked, social networking sites would be legally required to erase your history, the same would go for any other company. You'd have the right to request that an online search for general information about you would come up empty. Transparency policies would have to be transparent under Reding's requirements.

REDING: Clear and understandably written in plain language.

SCHULTZ: That may sound like oversimplification, until you find out, as ZDNet editor Zack Whittaker explains...

ZACK WHITTAKER: At one point Facebook's terms and conditions was longer than the U.S. Constitution. Most people will not read the fine print; the legal jargon companies and businesses often use to protect themselves.

SCHULTZ: U.S. companies, among them the Internet's most active aggregators and users of online private data, will be subject to the regulations if they have a European-based subsidiary, as most do.

At a conference this week in Munich, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg made what was widely seen as an effort to remind zealous European regulators that Facebook's financial friendship is worth having.

SHERYL SANDBERG: Facebook added $15.3 billion in value to the European economy just in the past year, mostly by driving about $32 billion in revenue.

SCHULTZ: That also helped create 232,000 European jobs, Sandberg noted. She didn't directly reference the privacy revamp. But with Europe dogged by debt and Facebook expected to soon file an initial public offering likely to earn billions, Sandberg could afford to be subtle.

For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.