EU privacy law lets you delete dodgy photos from Facebook forever

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding has unveiled legislation that will ensure your "right to be forgotten", allowing you to demand your dodgy photos are deleted.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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The EU wants to help you to disappear -- online, anyway. EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding has unveiled legislation that will ensure your "right to be forgotten", allowing you to demand your data is deleted, whether it's your personal data or unflattering photos.

That means you could request a photo be removed from Facebook, and suddenly it'll be like that lost weekend with the absinthe and the Woking over-50s Synchronised Swimming team never happened.

The EU believes that removing yourself from the Internet shouldn't be just an available option -- it should be a right. The proposals call for privacy to be the default setting for websites and social networks, rather than requiring you to manually hide your pictures, posts and updates from public gaze.

While you'd probably love to delete those Christmas party photos of you halfway up a flagpole in a mankini, this is going to be more useful for reclaiming personal data such as your address or phone number. The problem, however, is knowing where your data is. These days, we assume our personal details have been bought and sold more often than Kerry Katona's dignity.

Once you've requested that your data be deleted, the EU says it should be deleted completely. That means those snaps of you dressed as a pirate drinking antifreeze out of a ladyboy's armpit on your great-aunt's hen night should be completely erased from every server.

We wonder if that's even possible, but it would help you manage your online profile in a world where employers routinely check prospective employees' social network activities.

It sounds like the EU has a particular Internet giant in mind. "A US-based social network company that has millions of active users in Europe needs to comply with EU rules," Reding said. That sounds like a shot across Facebook's facebows if we heard one.

Facebook has been up to its neck in controversy over privacy issues lately, as it struggles to keep privacy controls simple but flexible. Most recently, Facebook has been in hot water over handing out users' addresses and phone numbers to apps and games.

Google also pitched into a privacy palaver last year with Street View, which publishes photos taken by roaming camera cars -- that quietly recorded your Wi-Fi password while they were at it.

Google boss Eric Schmidt recently suggested the solution to this problem is to change your name and pretend it wasn't you, which sounds like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, started a blog about how crazy the stable was, and filled Facebook with pictures of you running around the stables wearing nothing but a riding helmet.

Is there anything in your browser history you wish you could forget about, or is the loss of privacy the price of the wonderful Web? Tell us in the comments or on our Facebook wall.