Privacy is still vital
15th April 2009
The European Commission has reiterated the importance of an individual’s online and technological privacy, through an online video posted by Viviane Reding’s (Commissioner for Information Society & Media) office yesterday. She forcefully reminds EU member states that all “Europeans must have the right to control how their personal information is used”.
I am all for privacy – in any aspect of an individual’s life. It is all too familiar these days to hear of personal identity theft or credit card fraud due to the amount of information people put out there. Reding’s focus is reassuring, she has particularly singled out ‘behavioural advertising’ (using individual’s use of the internet and other technologies to target what they may want to buy etc), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID – ‘smart chips’ that send radio signals from devices such as mobile phones) and social network sites.
I stopped using Facebook personally a few months ago, but decided to re-join just before Easter. I had de-activated my account but was quite shocked to find all of the information from my profile still there when I “re-joined” e.g. all the photographs I had uploaded, my friends’ profiles and all the applications I had added. I didn’t have to do anything, and could continue on like I had never left. I started to wonder where all this information had been while I was away, and could anyone have seen it in my absence?
Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, has been in the firing line recently, due to the discovery of peoples profile information being kept without their knowledge or permission long after they have de-activated their Facebook accounts. Through her video cast, Reding assures us this will not happen in Europe, and that young people under the age of consent will be the main focus: “Privacy must in my view be a high priority for social networking providers and their users. I firmly believe that at least the profiles of minors must be private by default and unavailable to internet search engines. The European Commission has already called on social networking sites to deal with minors’ profiles carefully, by means of self-regulation. I am ready to follow this up with new rules if I have to.” (Quote courtesy of eGov Monitor)
The way I approach providing personal information online is fairly simple, and I think it is a way many people follow. Give as much information as you would do face to face with someone you don’t know, or over the telephone. People are very guarded about providing information via these communication channels, so why should the internet or PDAs be any different?
Viviane Reding’s approach is sensible and well thought out – it has not been done to scare people and to discourage them from using multiple channels to communicate. The European Commission are adapting their security and guidelines to the 21st Century, ensuring individuals are protected no matter which EU member state they live in – and I think that is very positive.