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Data protection in Europe is about to become more universal with one bloc-wide reform that will update laws put in place long before Facebook and other social networking sites even existed.

Social networks must become more open about how they operate, said European Union (EU) Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. Under her proposals, businesses — including Internet service providers — would have inform users of what data companies are collecting about users, for what purpose, and how the companies are storing it.

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EU regulators remain concerned about how commercial online services use customers’ personal data to attract advertisers, saying they want to make sure citizens’ privacy stays respected.

“All social network service providers active in the EU must fully comply with EU data protection laws,” Reding said. “Companies have a specific responsibility when personal data is their main economic asset,”

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Existing EU laws date to 1995, long before Facebook and other social networking sites existed. EU officials expect the draft legislation to be ready early next year, and after that, it could take up to 18 months for the bill to become law.

The EU has to iron out differences between its members over privacy issues. Countries like France and Germany favor stronger protections for privacy, while Ireland, Britain and others prefer more market-friendly rules.

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