Proposal will subject internet services like WhatsApp and Skype to similar rules as EU telecoms companies
OTTs and Telecom operators don’t currently have to play by the same rules in Europe. European Commission is planning to change this situation. Next month the commission will propose bringing the Skypes and WhatsApp and other OTTs under the same regulation as the EU Telecoms.
That will mean the OTT players will have to increase security of their services and new confidentiality rules that may limit what they can do with the data they hold on their customers’ communications. They might also have to provide free access to emergency-service numbers in future.
“The Commission has been looking into the growing importance of online players that provide similar or equivalent services to traditional communication services,” said Nathalie Vandystadt, spokesperson for the Commission’s Digital Single Market. The Commission was “considering” whether rules governing WhatsApp and Skype needed to be adapted, Vandystadt added, but didn’t confirm whether they would definitely be put in place.
Communication tools that piggyback on EU Telecoms data plans will have to abide to the strict new security and confidentiality rules, according to a Financial Times report published Monday that cites internal documents seen by the publication.
The Commission indicated in May that it wanted to create a level playing field between the EU Telecoms and OTTs. This has been delayed since 2002. 14 years… According to the FT, a formal announcement will come in September, followed by the new proposals later this year. The changes will come in the form of a replacement for the 2002 “e-privacy directive” that EU countries had to transpose into their national laws.
The original directive also restricted EU Telecoms use of the location data that they hold on their customers—a restriction that the carriers have been desperate to get rid of and kept point out that the OTTs can monetize such data much more freely.
It’s not yet clear which elements of the 2002 directive will be extended to cover online “over the top” services, and which will simply fall away—the Commission has certainly said they are trying to deregulate as much as they can.
Once the Commission has made its proposals, there will be a lengthy negotiation process involving the European Parliament and the member states. It will be interesting to follow the role of UK after the Brexit because they have traditionally stopped heavy regulations on OTTs.
The European Commission, is an executive arm of the 28-nation bloc, is set to recommend tighter privacy and security for services like Facebook-owned message service WhatsApp and Microsoft’s Skype. Spokesman Christian Wigand said that “we can confirm that the commission is working on an update of EU telecoms rules” next month to “ensure a high level of protection for people and a level playing field for all market players”.
“The commission is analyzing to what extent OTTs like WhatsApp and Skype are providing services that are equivalent to those provided by traditional telecoms operators,” Wigand said. “The commission is considering whether the scope of the current EU rules needs to be adapted, to maintain consistently high levels of consumer protection, security of networks and servers, and to ensure that regulation does not distort competition.” A Commission source told AFP that while it was necessary to “stimulate innovation by new players” they had to “make sure there were fair rules for everyone”.
It’s an outcome that is likely to please EU telecoms giants. Operators like Telefonica and Vodafone have consistently put pressure on the EU to have OTTs adhere to the same rules.