March 16, 2011

EU Wants to Force Facebook to Ensure "Right To Be Forgotten Online"

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What is the issue?

In a speech delivered today in Brussels, the European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding addressed the European parliament on internet privacy and what she calls “the right to be forgotten.” The speech, called “Your data, your rights: Safeguarding your privacy in a connected world,” is a continuation of Reding’s efforts to reform privacy laws concerning the application of the EU’s rules and regulations to corporations outside of the EU that deal with Europeans – the best example, naturally, being Facebook.

Reding’s concerns are clearly in response to the increasing availability of private data that is stored on servers around the world. She doesn’t want a night of raging hard and some photos of you puking in the toilet with your shirt off to jeopardize your career, and she doesn’t want your personal information being used in ways you didn’t agree to.

In her speech, Reding laid out “the four pillars.” The first encapsulates the heart of the reforms: “the right to be forgotten.” The idea is simple: you should have to right to completely erase any personal data you have on the internet, including but not limited to compromising photos. “I am a firm believer in the necessity of enhancing individuals’ control over their own data,” Reding said in the speech.

New rules and regulations would include laws stating that people have the right – not only the “possibility” – to withdraw their consent to data processing. “The burden of proof should be on data controllers – those who process your personal data. They must prove that they need to keep the data rather than individuals having to prove that collecting their data is not necessary,” Reding said. She did not say, however, how these laws would be enforced.

Basically this means that there would be more transparency surrounding the ways in which we input our personal data and greater visibility of information concerning what’s happening with that data. People should know what’s happening with their “favorite movie” preferences and their photos of them engaged in risky, debauched behavior, according to Reding.

“I want to make sure that greater clarity is required when signing up to social networking. Unfavorable conditions – restricting control of users over their private data or making data irretrievably public – are often not clearly mentioned,” she said.

Another point mentioned in Reding’s speech was the idea of “privacy by default.” Of the whole speech, this is the law the can be easily enforced. The name says it all: when utilizing social network sites, it would be assumed that privacy setting are set to the highest level, and it would be up to the user to allow for greater accessibility of his or her personal information. Not only that, users would have to be legally informed as to how their information might be used so informed consent could be made.

Reding never explicitly mentioned Facebook in her speech. But her final idea, “protection regardless of data location,” is clearly targeted at that social networking site, and it seems to implicitly say, “watch out, Mark Zuckerberg.”

“For example,” Reding said, “a US-based social network company that has millions of active users in Europe needs to comply with EU rules.” It is clear that her finger is pointing at Zuckerberg in an admonishing way, but it’s unclear just how the EU will enforce these laws. Meanwhile, Facebook claims that it already complies with these rules, according to one of its spokesmen quoted in The Guardian.

Sadly, this has nothing to do with Americans! Facebook and other addictive social networking sites will continue to use our private information for marketing purposes, and unless we’re careful, employers are still going to see first-hand evidence of us getting hammered. TC mark

image – Christiaan Tonnis

Dan Hoffman

Dan grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He went to college in western Massachusetts. He maintains the literary blog

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