European regulations relating to customer data handling could soon be extended to messaging services including Skype and WhatsApp, with a new proposal to be unveiled in January.

According to Reuters, a European Commission spokeswoman said this forms part of a work to adapt its data protection regulation, which will come into force in 2018.

Some parts of the regulation currently only apply to telecoms firms. The proposal would extend it to tech giants such as Microsoft and Facebook, impacting their messaging services.

It may also allow telecom companies to use customer data with their consent, enabling them to “provide additional services and make more money”, the report said.

Companies offering OTT services will have to “guarantee the confidentiality of communications and obtain user consent to process their location data”.

The proposal comes following pressure from telecoms firms to either extend the rules to everyone or get rid of them. They have complained that stricter rules are imposed on them than on firms like Google and Microsoft, even though they offer similar services.

“This creates a void of protection of confidentiality for the users of these services” and “generates an uneven playing field between these providers and electronic communications service providers, as services which are perceived by users as functionally equivalent are not subject to the same rules,” the draft said.

In September it was reported that the proposal will allow some leeway for those firms which do not control the transmission of their services over the underlying telecoms infrastructure.