Europe getting tougher on social sites?

By Anne Collier

It looks like the European Commission will be adding teeth to its interaction with social media companies such as Facebook, whether or not they’re headquartered in Europe. In a speech to the European Parliament, the EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, warned that “a US-based social network company that has millions of active users in Europe needs to comply with EU rules,” according to The Guardian, and those rules may be changing. She’ll be unveiling a “package of proposals” soon that “intends to force Facebook and other social networking sites to make high standards of data privacy the default setting and give control over data back to the user.” Facebook would probably argue that it already provides users with extensive privacy settings, but Reding said “the burden of proof should be on … those who process your personal data.” Among other things the new legislation would reportedly give national privacy watchdogs “powers to investigate and launch legal proceedings against companies with services that target EU consumers”; ensure that privacy is baked into services and not added on later; outlaw the gathering of user data without users’ permission; and give users a sort of privacy statute of limitation. It’ll be interesting to see how the industry would manage that last one, which the Commissioner’s office says allows you to withdraw your consent to the use of your data, after which it’s gone for good, without a trace of it on any server anywhere.

This is “a revolutionary moment,” wrote John Carr, London-based senior adviser to the UN’s ITU, in his blog, partly because “the new sheriffs rode into town”: Neelie Kroes, vice president of the EC with responsibility for the EU’s Digital Agenda. She brought with her Robert Madelin as director general for Information Society and Media. New but not ingénue. Their “shared agenda for cyberspace is starting to become very clear, at least in my neck of the woods,” Carr writes. On March 16, “Madelin delivered an electrifying, radical speech. Everyone is now on notice. The future of self-regulation as the preferred means of making policy in the field of online child protection hangs in the balance.”

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