Online messaging companies like WhatsApp and Skype might be severely restrained soon, as the European Union is expected to implement a regulatory crackdown on such services in the coming weeks.
This comes after the U.K.voted to exit the EU. Britain was a consistent critic of enforcing regulations that could inconvenience companies like WhatsApp and Skype, according to the Financial Times.
The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, plans on publishing a draft of the laws on data privacy in order to enforce the rule of law in a uniform manner. Large telecom companies that offer short message services want instant message and internet-voice-call services to abide by the same privacy and security rules they are forced to comply with.
These “over-the-top” (OTT) services would have to follow “security and confidentiality provisions,” according to exclusive documents seen by the Financial Times. The businesses will likely be mandated to submit to national security requests from government agencies. Legislation will most likely also include guidelines pertaining to how they can profit from customer data. (RELATED: Facebook’s Latest Promise Bound To Upset Three-Letter Gov’t Agencies)
But Charlotte Holloway, the director of policy at TechUK, told The Guardian that these rules will be very difficult to hone in order to just apply to OTT services. They will also unnecessarily prohibit societal improvements that arise from relatively unfettered technological progress.
“It’s not just OTT messaging apps that could be affected in such a move, but new and emerging areas such as the ‘internet of things’ and smart city technologies,” she told The Guardian.
Some predicted that after the U.K. officially leaves, the European Union will have even more solidarity and thus further room to pass even more regulations. A writer for Vox contended that “it’s possible that removing Britain’s relatively Euroskeptical population from the EU” could allow the remaining member states in the EU to pass further regulations.
Belgian economist Paul De Grauwe asserted in a February op-ed that “it is not in the interest of the EU to keep a country [UK] in the union that will continue to be hostile to ‘l’acquis communautaire’ and that will follow a strategy to further undermine it.” He continued: “when Britain is kept out of the EU it will not longer be able to undermine the EU’s cohesion.”
In other words, if the UK leaves, the EU will be able to pass more regulations with the uniformity that is expected of a union.
WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, and Skype, which is owned by Microsoft, may face regulations that not only curtail innovation, but even disallow their services to legally function. The new rules are presumably a means to truncate the American companies’ dominance in the international internet sector.
Dominant telecom groups like Telefónica of Spain and Orange of France have appealed to the EU to command that companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook follow the same rules, reports the Financial Times. Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and other communication platforms that utilize the internet created a legal gray area, in which the majority of regulations either didn’t apply to them, or weren’t enforced.
While the U.K. will still be involved in the regulatory discussions because “Brexit” will not fully materialize until a later date, its departure from the international governing body apparently allowed this to transpire, officials in Brussels told the Financial Times.
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