Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Two sides of online censorship

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Communications minister Ed Vaizey recently commented on the planned additions to the EU data protection directive saying changes need to be both “practical and proportionate”. The additions focus on the right to be forgotten online, particularly for users of social networking sites. That could require websites to delete data held about individuals and inform people how their personal information is handled.

Vaizey says he’s concerned the directive could give people false expectations, saying: ‘No government can guarantee that photos shared with the world will be deleted by everyone when someone decides it’s time to forget.’ The minister is worried that implementing revisions could “stifle innovation”, although he doesn’t explain how allowing users to control their personal information could result in hindering international business development.

Internet users do need more information about how their data is stored and used – and that should be readily provided by website owners – but giving individuals a right to delete personal data from the internet is obviously the more contentious point, perhaps stemming from an idea that people will use a right to be forgotten to edit personal history to the detriment of free speech.

Interestingly, Vaizey is also one of the main players in the proposed ‘Great Firewall of Britain’, a self-regulatory scheme which would allow the government to block websites that music and film companies accuse of copyright infringement. Several civil liberties groups, including The Open Rights Group (ORG), have raised concerns that this could lead to a heavy-handed approach resulting in excessive legal claims and censorship of legitimate material.

Jim Killock of ORG called this proposal a backdoor private arrangement between the government and rights-holders without the scrutiny that judges or a formal act of parliament would require. The democracy of the scheme is certainly called into question – who will decide which sites can be blocked and why? Who will oversee these decisions to make sure they are democratic? It seems that ISPs would be allowed to blacklist censored sights with no judicial review.

Vaizey is concerned that implementing a right to be forgotten could stifle innovation. But the proposed firewall has been accused of leading to a situation where censorship could be done at will. The message seems to be that giving individuals the right to block or delete online is dangerous, while large corporations and the state can go right ahead.

Facebook rival Diaspora goes live

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

A “privacy aware” social network called Diaspora went live on Wednesday. It was founded earlier this year by four students from New York University who saw an opportunity for a new type of service to counter Facebook which has increasingly come under attack for its dubious privacy policy.

One of Diaspora’s founders, Maxwell Salzberg told the BBC: “We are going after the idea there are all these centralised services where people are giving up their personal information. We want to put users back in control of what they share.”

It’s refreshing to see a social network that doesn’t require individuals to hand over reams of private data but with Facebook’s 500 million members, is there a place for Diaspora? Although the company plans to roll out services gradually, subscription to the site is only available to a small number of invited users.

Salzberg says Diaspora, “is not just about Facebook. Facebook is not what we are going after.” But the founders will have to progress past the “baby steps” they outline in a blog post on the site if they want their privacy-championing project to challenge the status quo.