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Facebook Questions EU ‘Right To Be Forgotten’

The EU’s right to be forgotten is not what users actually want from a social network, says Facebook

Facebook has acknowledged online privacy control as a major challenge, but says that the European Union’s proposal to legislate for ‘a right to be forgotten’ runs counter to what people actually want.

Under EU proposals, online citizens could have their information deleted from social sites after a certain time by default, unless they opt to let the sites store it for longer. This is the opposite of what users actually want, according to a senior Facebook executive.

Users want easy sharing

Facebook faces a challenge in providing ease of use, while making sure users also have full control to determine their privacy settings, including a choice of deleting their accounts, according to Richard Allan (pictured), director of European Policy at the social network.

However, he claimed that most Facebook users prefer their data being stored on the site to having it permanently removed. “They want us to give them a guarantee that data will remain available in ten or 15 years’ time so they have a record of how things changed over time,” said Allan, at the Westminster Media Forum in London on Tuesday.

His statement comes in the wake of the European Union’s proposal for ‘a right to be forgotten,’ whereby one can withdraw consent for data being kept online, and by default, sites will have to delete it from the Internet after a fixed period of time.

The right to be forgotten

The right to be forgotten was proposed by Viviane Reding, European commissioner in charge of justice issues, who looks to curb online privacy risks, including automatic collection of data.

“While social networking sites and photo sharing services have brought dramatic changes to how we live, new technologies have also prompted new challenges. It’s now more difficult to detect when our personal data is being collected,” she said in a statement last week.

Facebook  has faced pressure over privacy settings, and users’ profiles have been publicly viewable by default since January 2010. The site has addressed various security concerns but has been criticised by governments.

While Facebook’s aim is to make it easy for users to share information (and then to make money from that), governments and others are warning that it is in users’ best interests to be more cicumspec – but there are difficulties in creating laws to support that.

“The right to be forgotten won’t work unless it’s agreed on an international basis,” said Dr. Chris Pounder, director of information law training firm Amberhawk, adding that the industry is not dealing with privacy but data protection, including fair processing, accuracy and relevance, which he claimed is “more fruitful than the right to be forgotten”.

Deletion options

Meanwhile, Allan argued that having their data removed is the last thing users want Facebook to do. “We need to find mechanisms that can deal with the exceptions rather than imposing on mainstream users that are comfortable putting information online,” he suggested.

Currently, however, Facebook provides two options for its users to stop their accounts. Users can choose to deactivate the account. This way, the data they have previously uploaded will be saved on Facebook’s servers and can be retrieved when the account is reactivated.

If they want to permanently remove their presence on the social networking site, users can submit their request to the Facebook Help Centre to have all the information they have uploaded removed with no option for future recovery.

Richard Allan is a life peer, having been a Liberal Democrat MP between 1997 and 2005, before handing his seat on to Nick Clegg. He has also been an IT manager and an archaeologist.