27 January 2012
For the first time people living within the European Union will have what's being called "the right to be forgotten". Under changes announced by the European Commission, people will be able to tell a company to remove all the online data they have about them.
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Just how much control should people have over their online reputations? Should they be able to demand that an unflattering photo be permanently deleted from a website like Facebook? Does everything people write online have to stay there? What about bank details, addresses - can websites hold onto this information forever?
These were the kinds of questions being asked by the European Commission as it investigated the issue of internet privacy. Its guiding principle throughout has been what it called "the right to be forgotten". It has now decided on what this mysterious sounding phrase actually means.
It means that a person does have the right to demand their personal information be permanently deleted if it is data that they themselves have put online. But they don't have the right to have things like unflattering blogs or newspaper profiles written by others deleted.
The EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the changes will help build trust in online services.
The Commission also says that businesses should have to tell their customers within 24 hours if their online accounts have been hacked into.
Some internet companies have reacted with concern to the proposals, warning that they could become bogged down in trying to meet the new requirements and that could affect their ability to grow.
Click to hear the vocabulary
someone's image, the opinions people have about them
less attractive than they really are
a person's ability to keep some personal information secret
- guiding principle
idea or concept which leads people to behave in a certain way
- build trust
create belief in the security of
- hacked into
got into illegally from another computer