Do You Want To Be Utterly Forgettable On Facebook?

by Dan Cash

Plans are afoot to make it possible to be ‘forgotten online’ thanks to a speech made to the European Union by EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding. Being forgettable will mean that potential employers and online stalkers won’t be able to find old photos and silly comments made by you once you have dissociated yourself from them.

Reding advised US based social media companies such as the ubiquitous Facebook that: “A US-based social network company that has millions of active users in Europe needs to comply with EU rules.” There are going to be a number of proposals disclosed in Spring and among these will be the intention to force Facebook and other social networking sites to make their default settings for privacy high and relinquish control to the user. Reding went on:

“I want to explicitly clarify that people shall have the right — and 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.”

In the raft of proposals regional privacy guardians will be granted the power to investigate and initiate legal proceedings against companies with services which target European users. A year ago Reding issued social media platforms a warning, although she was thinking specifically of Facebook, when she said that privacy settings were taking a turn for the worse, now she’s putting those warnings into actions.

Facebook user profiles have been open to the public by default since January 2010 so users have to find and select the option that means that their thoughts and pictures can only be seen by friends and invited individuals. Reding’s spokesman, Matthew Newman said that companies “can’t think that they are exempt just because they have their servers in California or do their processing in Bangalore. If they’re targeting EU citizens, they will have to comply with the rules.”

Others on Reding’s staff say that privacy settings are often so complex, hard to find or difficult to understand. They say that the new legislation will guarantee privacy is an inbuilt rather than an extra that’s tacked on later. The new rules will also make it impossible for the platform to surreptitiously gather data without the profile holder’s explicit permission. These laws will make the EU the first region to give users the right to be ‘forgotten.’

Many people find that it’s difficult to delete your account and even when you do things which you have said and photos that you’re tagged in with other people or alone won’t disappear just because you’re no longer a user of that particular social media outlet. If they’ve been liked or commented on by other people they will remain on their sites as memories which are still associated with you.

Newman spoke on this matter: “Maybe you’ve been at a party, up until four in the morning and you or someone you know posts photos of you. Well, it’s a harmless bit of fun, but being unable to erase this can threaten your job or access to future employment.” The new rules are intended to give consumers a specific right to withdraw their permission to share their data, including pictures “… and once you’ve withdrawn your consent, there shouldn’t even be a ghost of your data left on some server somewhere. It’s your data and it should be gone for good.” He went on.

Facebook maintain that they are already fully compliant with the EU statutes as they stand and says that it will work alongside officials in Brussels in their efforts to revise the data protection legislation that was introduced in 1995. Remember that 16 years ago was virtually Year Zero as far as the internet goes and legislation which was stringent enough then will be ill equipped to deal with the way the internet works today.

Sophy Silver, spokeswoman for Facebook said that: “Facebook is fully engaged in the debates around the review of the European Union’s data protection directive. We work closely with data protection authorities across the EU and with the European commission.” She went on to say that Facebook users were able to remove their data completely from view, after which it took a couple of weeks for the company’s servers to completely process the withdrawal of the photo or profile.

Dan Cash is a features writer who values his internet privacy. The tinfoil trays that Indian takeaway food from southampton comes in makes a perfect hat to stop Google stealing his thoughts. Seriously though, anyone wanting to protect their online identity should always think very carefully about what they put up using their account. You shouldn’t rely on food packaging that comes from Southampton delivery services.