EU officials warned social networking and search engine sites such as Facebook and Google on Monday to better protect consumer rights amid growing concern that users are being lured to hand over too much personal data.
Meglena Kuneva, the European Union's commissioner in charge of consumer rights, is to issue "a clear signal" to Internet site operators to work within regulators to better protect users when she meets with them later this week, her spokeswoman Helen Kearns said.
Kearns said that while the EU favored self regulation by the industry, it could be forced to step in and draft new rules if widespread abuses occur.
The European Commission is concerned that data being collected from personal profiles on social networking, search engine or other sites are increasingly being used for commercial purposes, at the expense of privacy and consumer rights.
The EU is calling on Web site operators to adhere to basic consumer rights to prevent deceiving, misleading or imposing excessive pressure on users to sign up to certain services or to buy products.
Kuneva, in a speech to be delivered on Tuesday, will say that the World Wide Web "is turning out to be the World 'Wild West'," and warn that the EU, as a regulator, "will not shy away" from its duty to enforce, if it "fails to see an adequate response to consumer concerns on the issue of data collection and profiling." She will add that current online standards on privacy, profiling and targeting consumers "is not satisfactory."
"Basic consumer rights in terms of transparency, control and risk are being violated and this cannot continue," she says, according to prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press. EU officials also are calling for more consumer awareness to know what happens to the data they post online and want social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace to make clear to users how personal information is used and whether it's shared with commercial partners.
Kearns pointed to the global uproar of Facebook users in February against a policy change on rights, to argue that more action is needed from regulators and industry.
Tens of thousands of users joined protest groups on Facebook, saying the new terms would grant the site the ability to control their information forever, even after they cancel their accounts.
The site said that it would not claim rights to photos or other content posted by its users on their profiles.
Facebook and MySpace were asked by the AP to comment on the EU concerns, but neither immediately answered.
Site operators such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft have said they already have implemented clearer and better rights for users.