When it comes to Facebook, EU defends the 'right to disappear'
New European Union rules planned for later this year will put the EU on the leading edge of privacy laws. The moves could have a profound effect on companies like Facebook.
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"If you sign up for Twitter or Facebook or a photo-sharing site," he says, "you agree to share your data, though you probably don't read the terms. It should be very easy for you to delete it, and it should be really deleted."Skip to next paragraph
Despite Facebook's 643 million users worldwide, McTiernan is not alone in giving it the cold shoulder. "I refuse to use it ... and am quite happy to work hard at my friendships," says Isabelle De Bretton, who lives in Tunbridge Wells, England, and recently turned her back on Facebook. "I'm known among my peer group as the 'Facebook ranter.'
"When I left Facebook, I found closing the account was a ridiculous experience. You couldn't simply close it down, you had to supply a reason for leaving," she says.
In recent years, Facebook has come under sustained criticism from online privacy advocates with complaints about its deactivating rather than deleting accounts. There is even a Facebook group dedicated to instructing people on how to permanently delete their accounts.
While Europe's move might be welcome in some quarters (especially among those who want to scrub the Internet of their digital footprints), criticism is coming from American technology companies and some advocates who come down on the side of freedom of expression online over the right to privacy.
Writing on his blog, Google's privacy counsel described the move as "foggy thinking" and claimed "privacy is the new black in censorship fashion."
"The concern is largely about young people who are prone to publishing embarrassing photographs that come back to haunt them in later years," says Gavin Phillipson, professor of law at Durham University in England.
While the problem is common across the world, the typical US response is to encourage more personal responsibility and education of users. In Europe, calls to clip the wings of businesses that deal in personal data are a more common response.
'A problem for US in particular'
"I initially found it to be a very attractive idea, but subsequently saw some problems with it," she says. "One problem is technical: On the Internet, information tends to get shared around. But from a legal and ethical point of view, the problem is that my privacy is in conflict with your right to freedom of expression. If I write on my blog 'John was drunk last night,' that's personal information about John, but it's also my right to express myself."
Professor Edwards says the EU's attempt to mediate between the conflict of the rights to privacy and expression is "a problem for the US in particular."
"The EU already has a strong privacy regime in the form of data protection [directives] – that isn't so in the US. The move under way in Europe is to strengthen the existing laws. It's not coming out of the blue."
Notably, EU law compels telecommunication companies and Internet service providers to collect data on users for law-enforcement purposes, but the new data protection regime is primarily interested in how businesses use data.
For the justice commission, the issue centers on compliance with European law: "A lot of these services are not based in the EU. But if they are targeting EU customers, they must comply with EU law," says Newman
Edwards adds: "The US, historically and culturally, has been less strong in regulating the private sector – and it's in the private sector in the US where most of this data iskept."