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EU lawmakers push for data privacy

Proposals include turnover-percentage fines for offending Internet companies

EU lawmakers push for data privacy
Suspicion among online users is growing regarding the use of their personal data.

A cadre of EU lawmakers is pushing for stricter regulations to govern how Internet companies can use the personal information of their customers.

The group wants to curtail the monetising of data such as browsing patterns by giving users a say in how it is used.

"Users must be informed about what happens with their data," said Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German MEP (Member of the European Parliament) who will today announce a plan to give users more control over their data. His initiative is outlined in a report that stems from a January 2012 EU proposal for more effective data protection.

"[Users] must be able to consciously agree to data processing - or reject it," said Albrecht.

Critics of the proposed reforms include data-centric industries such as transport and health and Internet mainstays such as Google and Facebook, which were pioneers in Web analytics.

"We are concerned that some aspects of the report do not support a flourishing European digital single market and the reality of innovation on the Internet," Erika Mann, head of EU policy for Facebook, said.

US privacy advocates estimate that a Facebook user, of which there are now over 1 billion, can average $10 in annual revenue for the social media company through clicking on advertisements.

Albrecht's proposals include fines of up to 2% of annual turnover for companies found to have misused data, but the ceiling is thought to be too punitive for the taste of many MEPs. Most are said to favour an upper limit of 1% as they fear big data operations migrating to more liberal jurisdictions.

Albrecht's report, which will be vote on in April, surfaces in a climate of growing suspicion towards online services. Most recently, Facebook-owned Instagram prompted a flurry of protest against its proposed change in service terms, including a clause that appeared to reserve the right to use personal data for advertising purposes without remuneration to the owner. Despite a hasty u-turn, the photo-sharing service continued to draw criticism from users, privacy advocates, legal experts and media. A mid-holiday dip in its site traffic reported by AppData, was interpreted by some as an exodus by some 25% of its account holders.

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