European officials argue that individuals should get a better say on how their data is obtained and used. The European Commission wants to strengthen people's 'right to be forgotten.'
Google and Facebook may have to change their policies
The European Union announced on Thursday its intention to give individuals more control on how their personal data is collected and used.
"The protection of personal data is a fundamental right," EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement.
'Right to be forgotten'
This also includes the "right to be forgotten," when people decide to permanently remove their data from the internet, for instance when deleting photos and other information from social networking sites.
Individuals should be informed in a transparent way on how, why, by whom, and for how long their data is collected and used.
"People should be able to give their informed consent to the processing of their personal data," she added.
Companies make use of search histories
The new data-protection strategy could affect the business practices of social networks such as Facebook and search engines like Google. In order to specifically target online advertising, Internet companies make use of an individual's search history.
EU Justice Commissioner Vivane Reding called for the "right to be forgotten"
"The political approach is heading in the right direction, and maybe it can help to raise awareness in the general public," said Thomas Hoeren, a professor at the Institute for Information, Telecommunication and Media Law at the University of Muenster, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "But legal enforcement won't work for international providers such as Facebook."
Given the fact that these American companies don't have to abide by European law, the restrictions might only work if there is indirect pressure.
"If some of the social networks have to abide by stricter rules, it could create a form of competition among the sites," Hoeren said. "This could put pressure on Facebook to comply as well."
European officials noted that while the new rules may not be completely effective, that an attempt was necessary.
"It's worthwhile giving this a try," said Thomas Zerdick, a legal officer and data protection expert at the European Commission, in an interview with Deutsche Welle.
Automatic deadline on online content
There also have been ongoing discussions about putting a deadline on photos and posts - the idea is that the user could then select when items should be automatically deleted.
"But it's doubtable if that would be a feature social networks would actually welcome," Hoeren added. "What happens if you forget about the deadline you set and half of your page has been raided?"
The new rules will form the basis for an overhaul of the EU's laws on data protection scheduled for next year.
The approach comes at a time when Britain ruled Google had breached UK law by harvesting emails, Internet addresses and passwords while collecting data for its Street View mapping service. Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Canada are also continuing their investigations.
Author: Sarah Steffen (AP, Reuters)
Editor: Cyrus Farivar