Privacy challenges ahead 2013

Dr Rebecca Wong
google 300x225 Privacy challenges ahead 2013

(Getty Images)

Joe Bloggs wishes to use a pseudonym on Facebook as he does not want his employer and his tutors to know that he has an account.  Or, Jane does not wish to have her Google services merged into one account so that Google can send personalised online adverts nor does she wish it to keep a record of all the search terms she typed on Google.  These are some of the examples that have recently been the subject of much discussion.

In the latest round of developments on privacy, two cases have recently been decided which is likely to have significant implications in the way we protect our privacy. First, the current EU data protection framework deals with the extent to which online users can use fictitious names on social media such as Facebook. Second, EU data protection law deals with the question whether Google can merge their services such that it becomes possible to send you information based on your preferences. Can you anonymise your past purchases without being sent information about discounts based on what you bought online?  When was the last time you made a complaint to the Information Commissioner about your information being made available online as a result of a data security lapse?  Or finding out that information held about you on the credit file was inaccurate?

On February 2013, Facebook won a court challenge against its policy of requiring users to use their real names on Facebook. Here, Schleswig-Holstein Data Protection Authority ruled against Facebook’s policy of asking its users to use their real names as this would violate German and European Data protection laws and erode users’ freedoms. Instead, it recommends that users use pseudonyms.  However, the Administrative Court, North of Germany took the view that German data protection laws did not apply since Facebook’s headquarters were based in Ireland and therefore, Irish Data Protection Laws apply. This seems to be in line with the general Data Protection Directive, but it is likely that we would not hear the end of this as a further appeal is likely to take place over the next few months.

There is a broader question to be asked. And that is to what extent users should pseudonymise themselves on social media or the right to use a fake name such as Joe Bloggs. The issue whether users should have the  right to use a fictitious name in place of their real name on Facebook without revealing their identity is likely to continue. With the impending changes to be made to the European Data Protection framework, this is likely to be further complicated with users rights being strengthened so that you can easily transfer your profile data from one website to another (known as “data portability”) and the right to delete your data online from websites or internet service providers (known as the “right to erasure”).  This is separate from the right of others (employers, teachers and so on) to find out about you.

In a separate development, Google is likely to face another major legal challenge. In October 2012, the European Data Protection Authorities led by the CNIL, French Data Protection Authority took the view that Google should improve data subjects’ information and data held by Google. This followed recent changes made by Google to merge several of its services including YouTube and Google search engine. The knock on effect would be the possibility for Google to combine users’ personal information from services so that it could target their services to you as users.

For instance, think of the latest books you have purchased on Amazon. Visit Amazon again and you have a list of recommendations. Based on your preferences it would be possible to identify the types of books you like and recommend a similar genre. Likewise on Google, depending on the types of things you search, it is possible to set up a personalised or customised service so that Google can target certain adverts or links to you.

According to the US Attorney Generals “Consumers may be comfortable with Google  knowing their search queries, but not with it knowing their whereabouts, yet the new privacy policy appears to give them no choice in the matter, further invading their privacy.” It is unclear whether the Google saga will lead to further court cases within the EU, but given the proposed changes to the EU Data Protection Regulation, it would not be a surprise if there were no legal challenges from organisations to comply with the data protection law.

Is the regulation a panacea to the problem of dealing with protecting your privacy online? There is still some way to go, but getting a right balance between the right to protect your information online against potential misuse through data security lapses and the right to use Google or social media to express yourselves online without sharing information is a difficult challenge to achieve.

Ultimately, the user will have to decide. Opt-in to Google and accept that sending you similar related adverts based on your searches or emails are a part of using their services, or use your autonomy by opting out of Google entirely. The choice is down to the web user. Which would you prefer?

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  • Sculptor471

    Amazon’s recommendations are useful. However there should be a time limit on the transaction records’ retention – as an option specified by the user. Nothing more than the period required for returning unsatisfactory goods is absolutely necessary.

  • jack scht

    opt out

  • ColostomyTempleton

    A Host file Is still the best way to remove bothersome content on the internet.

    As for the real names BS Shirley you can use a real name that’s not your own.

  • Ian Kemmish

    The fact that in an ideal world this should be a false dichotomy makes me feel uncomfortable. There may be excellent reasons for hiding behind a misleading identity online, though in 29 years I’ve never encountered one. But if there are, then those who accept those reasons should have no trouble raising capital to create more popular rivals to Facebook and Google. That is, after all, what markets are for.

    Perhaps the deeper question is whether we will have such a thriving market, or whether, because people are apparently too lazy to read the terms under which goods are and services are offered to them, and too mean to invest in rival products, we will sleep walk into a command economy where monopolies provide everything we consume and politicians tell those monopolies exactly what to provide us….

  • bobbellinhell

    It’s easy to use a pseudonym on Facebook, you should just pick a plausible one. They have no way of checking.

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