Who owns your Facebook photos? Social media industry faces threat as EU proposes “Right to be Forgotten”

Today, European Commissioner Viviane Reding is introducing new privacy legislation that proposes ambitious — and some might say impossible — reforms to the way personal information on social media sites is protected.

The new legislation would effectively shift ownership of photos, videos and messages to users, granting them the “right to be forgotten.” (Read a good analysis by Reuters reporter Georgina Prodhan here).

That means sites like Facebook would not only be required to close an account when requested, but also to package and return photos and messages to the user before deleting any trace of them from their own servers.

But the reforms go further. According to leaked copies, social media sites would not only have to delete their own files, they’d also have to scour the Internet to find any instance where a third party may have unlawfully reposted the content.

Reding says the reforms would harmonize 27 national laws across the Euro zone and give social media users control over how their data is being used, but players in the social media industry are incredulous, objecting both in principle and practice.

Facebook has already come out against the idea that any court could impose a “right to be forgotten.” (Couldn’t an organization, conversely, claim a “right to remember” by maintaining ownership of photos?)

And Microsoft’s Chief Operating Officer EU Affairs and Associate General Counsel Ronald Zink doubted that the law, as envisaged, could be enforced. “… we can take it off our servers, but are we really responsible for going to find every cached copy that may have filtered out there?”

Controversy over the legislation seems to have the EU backpedalling. According to documents obtained by Reuters, legislators are already considering a softening of their stance, particularly when it comes to the requirement that social media sites perform a search of the entire Web with the aim of wiping out any uploaded content.

Critics of the proposal also point out that the legislation ignores the fact that many users are wilfully sharing their data with the public, in effect waiving their right to privacy.

… Makes me wonder whether this couldn’t all be solved with an even bigger disclaimer, or perhaps multiple obvious disclaimers. In the end, people don’t post things on Facebook because they’re looking for privacy.

– David Dias

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