The European Union is at war again with Facebook and Google about its citizens’ social networking privacy rights.
The EU issued a 20 page report, updating a 1995 ruling, clearly stating “…the protection of personal data is a fundamental right.”
The proposed ruling gives users the right to sue social networking sites like Facebook in addition to bringing criminal penalities against social media sites for personal information abuse.
Representing 27 countries, the EU carries a lot of clout, despite strong arguments against the proposal by European advertisers. The ruling also demonstrates the different cultures in Europe and the United States about online and mobile social networking privacy.
In my review of The Social Network, I wrote: “What’s most fascinating about this flick is not the socially-repressed Zuckerberg or the litigation to control Facebook. It’s how quickly students at Harvard, later Stanford…then the world became willing to reveal private information about their lives…”
While you can’t ignore Facebook’s release of private information to marketing firms, both U.S. and European citizens must have realized by now that Facebook and other commercial social sites are not charities. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and others are for-profit organizations. Many members of these sites, I believe, think at times that they’re benevolent non-profits.
This doesn’t excuse online social network companies from not protecting private member information according to their own policies and government regulations. However, the European Union’s statements and actions demonstrate that government protection of its citizens’ information rights is challenging in a world of five billion mobile phones and 1.5 billion personal computers.
Our digital lives produce terabytes of data flying at the speed of light around the globe. And individuals who consent to use services like Facebook either produce or allow release of most of that data.
Mobile privacy should be our main concern. In fact, it’s one of the major issues in this century. While the EU, the FCC and consumer protection groups voice their concerns about protecting private information sent to computer servers from PC’s, mobile and wireless device security is a critical public issue.
The mobile computing age of smartphones, tablet computers and Internet cafe’s is relatively new but now dominates our digital lives, raising mobile privacy to new heights. Smartphone users, in particular, are far more likely to press a button on their touch screens authorizing information release than personal computer users.
Today’s mobile intensives, who are well educated and affluent, use their mobile phones’ browsers and apps without much thought given to protecting personal information. Meanwhile, cyber criminals, marketers, advertisers, government agencies and others seek behavioral data for marketing and other purposes.
Keeping information we don’t want released requires personal diligence. We can’t rely on government agencies or consumer protection groups to save us. As I wrote in my review of the Facebook movie, “… [the film] points out the hunger of people around the world to share personal information online. But all social media users should consider what and how they share information and the need to control social network privacy.”