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EU Seeks Stronger Privacy Rules For Google, Facebook

November 5, 2010

The European Union (EU) is seeking to strengthen its privacy rules for companies such as Facebook and Google amid new concerns over the way Internet firms use personal information.

Officials with the EU said the new rules would be prepared next year following public input.

“Benefits of … technology to individuals, businesses and public authorities must go hand-in-hand with the necessary respect for personal data,” said the European Commission in a statement.

The Commission also seeks to further empower privacy protection authorities in EU member states, update rules for privacy for law enforcement and streamline legislation across the 27-member bloc to reduce bureaucracy for businesses.

The move comes amid growing concern about Internet privacy issues as companies such as Google and Facebook gather more information about their users’ online habits — which they can then use to draw advertisers.

On Wednesday, Britain ruled that Google had violated the nation’s privacy laws by collecting emails, passwords and Internet addresses while gathering data for its Streetview mapping service.

France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Canada are also investigating Google over the same issue.

Regulators in the United States concluded their investigation of Google last week after the company addressed their concerns.

However, EU officials acknowledged it was not certain how they could force the tech firms to comply with their rules.

“It’s worthwhile giving this a try,” EU data protection expert Thomas Zerdick told reporters, replying to a question about how the executive would persuade U.S.-based Facebook to comply with any demands to completely delete data.

Earlier this year, privacy concerns resulted in tensions between the U.S. and the EU after the European parliament vetoed an agreement between the Commission and Washington involving information sharing of citizens’ bank transfers in pursuit of terrorist suspects.

The deal had to be renegotiated to include more data protection provisions before taking effect in August.

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