'Europe will become a digital backwater': there's a new war over online privacy and metadata in Europe right now

'Europe will become a digital backwater': there's a new war over online privacy and metadata in Europe right now

woman spying texting messaging phone screen

Clemens Bilan/Getty

Mobile companies, tech firms, and internet providers all have access to your metadata.

  • Tech firms have begun seriously lobbying against another set of proposed European privacy laws, called "ePrivacy."
  • ePrivacy would give consumers control over their communications metadata, meaning firms like Facebook might not be able to keep information about when you send messages or how long your phone calls last.
  • Tech firm lobby groups said this could stifle innovation like driverless cars, which need to retain metadata.
  • It isn't clear when the proposed laws could come into effect, because everyone is arguing about their potential impact.

LONDON - There's a new war brewing in Europe over online privacy, days after strict new privacy legislation came into effect for the region last week.

Facebook, Google, and other tech giants are still reeling from the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, kicking in from May 25.

But if privacy-loving lawmakers get their way, there's a second set of laws on the way which are even stricter than GDPR. This is known as ePrivacy.

Lobby groups for tech companies said the proposed laws will stifle innovation, according to a report in The New York Times.


"Europe will become a digital backwater," said Daniel Dalton, a British member of the European Parliament. Dalton said he has met with Facebook, Google, and other tech firms to hear their worries about the new laws. "Every stakeholder I have talked to from industry, from all sizes from the very biggest to the very smallest businesses, are unanimously opposed to this."

Another British MEP, Claude Moraes, told Business Insider earlier this month that ePrivacy had the potential to have a bigger impact on Facebook than GDPR. "ePrivacy is more relevant to the Facebook model than GDPR," he said. "GDPR will affect its business model, but ePrivacy will do so far more."

Mark Zuckerberg sad worried unhappy

Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives at the European Parliament to answer questions in Brussels.

While GDPR is more focused on the use of personal information for online advertising and marketing, ePrivacy is more concerned with protecting communications data, specifically metadata. Metadata might include information about when you made a phone call, where you were, and how long the call lasted. It doesn't include information about what you actually said.

Lots of companies, from the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook to mobile networks and internet providers, hold this kind of information on users. For the most part, users have no say in the matter. But if ePrivacy comes into force, that will change. Under the proposed law, users would have much more control over their metadata. If they don't give their consent, firms would have to delete that information and would no longer be able to collect it by default.


Like GDPR, companies could be fined up to 4% of their global turnover if they don't obey the rules.

Tech companies have stepped up their lobbying efforts, according to the newspaper.

In one example, a lobbying group representing ad and communications agencies created a video suggesting the new law would kill independent journalism and new apps.

Others say the new law could hold back driverless cars, which would need to transmit data back to their manufacturers.

For now, ePrivacy is being held up by internal discussions at the European Parliament as lawmakers disagree over its impact.