Facebook admits site needs to improve
Published 23/03/2011 | 11:05
Facebook’s European director of policy has admitted that the site needs to improve its tools to help those "exceptional" users who need to delete data posted on the site forever.
Richard Allan, talking at a Westminster Media Forum debate entitled, ‘Social media, online privacy and the ‘right to be forgotten’', said that the majority of Facebook’s 500 million users around the world were more concerned that their data, such as photos and videos, remained on the service rather than being deleted.
Allan, who was en route to Brussels to take part in continued discussions on the European Union’s plans to force social networks to completely erase personal data, said that it would be a mistake to amend data protection laws on the basis of a few exceptional cases.
He said that “hard cases make bad law” and that the majority of the people using Facebook want a guarantee that their data will stay on the service, rather run the risk of any of it being deleted.
However, he did admit that the site still needed to “find mechanisms to help in exceptional cases” where data needed to be deleted.
Allan used young people who needed to delete their “youthful expressions” from Facebook when they are older, in order to not have embarrassing comments used against them in job interviews or in any other walk of life – to illustrate what he meant by exceptional cases.
He was at pains to stress that people can delete anything from Facebook and it will clear from the site’s environment.
However, in cases where information has been posted to ‘everyone’ online and indexed by search engines, or private information has then been posted publicly by someone else on the service, Facebook was not responsible.
When asked why Facebook had indexed its members ‘public’ information in Google in the first place, Allan said that users had wanted the service to do so in order to push other links they didn’t like about themselves down the search engine list.
Earlier this year Facebook was forced to disable a new feature which allowed third party companies access to people’s personal contact details, after negative user feedback and warnings from security experts.
And last year Facebook was forced to simplify its privacy settings in response to international criticism of the site’s increasingly complex systems for users to decide what aspects of their data is available online.
Speaking on the same panel as Facebook's Allan was Dr Chris Pounder, director of Amberhawk - a legal information training service. He argued that despite social network’s privacy settings, anyone posting anything online needed to accept that as soon as they published the information, it was no longer private.
“As soon as you publish anything online, it is no longer personal… this is a publishing issue and not a privacy one…We must understand that we are not dealing with privacy [issues] we are dealing with data protection.”