The EC to focus on targeted advertising

The European Commission (EC) is planning to increase its regulatory supervision on targeted advertising and privacy issues, which will be part of next year’s work program for the EU.

Although no draft Directive has been publicly published, reports indicate that one of the EC's plans is to introduce a new EC Directive in January 2014 that will ban targeted advertising unless users specifically allow it. Viviane Reding, the vice president of the EC was quoted as saying that the Directive would amend current European data protection laws in the light of technological advances and ensure consistency in how offending firms are to be dealt with across the EU. Reding indicated the EC's view on the importance of transparency to  users regarding information collected from them and the EC's plans by saying: "I call on service providers – especially social media sites – to be more transparent about how they operate. Users must know what data is collected and further processed (and) for what purposes. Consumers in Europe should see their data strongly protected, regardless of the EU country they live in and regardless of the country in which companies which process their personal data are established."

Once the EC's specific plans regarding the new draft directive will be published we expect that there will be a consultation period during which the industry will have the opportunity to opine and comment on the draft.

The EC and Facebook

Amongst its plans, the EC is aiming at dealing with Facebook's practice of gathering information about their users' personal interests including political opinions, sexuality, religious beliefs, etc. At the beginning of December, the EU's data protection working party will meet to discuss the "state of play" regarding Facebook.

The EC's decisions with respect to Facebook's practices will have wider implication on the industry, which we will analyze and advise as they become available.

Complaints in Europe against Google's "shared endorsements"

policy with respect to its users' privacy is also in the focus of many European regulators. A complaint against Google's recent change to its Terms of Service, with respect to personalized advertising, was filed last week with 14 data protection commissioners across Europe. The complaints were filed following Google's activation of its “Shared Endorsements” policy that exploits the images, personal data and identities of its users to construe personal endorsements published alongside the company’s advertised products across the Internet. The complaints note that the Google initiative should be seen within the broader context of other changes recently made to the company’s Terms of Service, that require users to log in or to create a Google+ account before being permitted to leave comments on YouTube. Not only are users now required to disclose their identity in order to interact on YouTube, but they are, by default, liable to have those comments and views construed as product endorsements in a generally publicly visible and identifiable format. The complaint is available here.

While the various proceedings are expected to take time, the complaints demonstrate a possible view according to which a user's privacy should be assessed not only with respect to each product on its own, but also when taking into account the combination of various products and the possible interfaces between them.