More than a decade into social media, we like to think we’re pretty savvy by this point.
Sure, we give up some of our personal data, but we’re wise to the deal – we get addictive, free apps and services in return. And what’s a few silly photos? We can always remove them, or make them vanish, thanks to privacy controls.
So the Government’s Data Protection Bill, under which anyone can ask for personal information to be deleted, a right to be forgotten, might seem like something nice, but niche.
I wonder if we realise how much dirt the social networks actually have on us.
It’s not just photos and status updates – the information we consciously hand over.
If you’re a WhatsApp user, it knows your phone and, a lot of the time, it knows your location.
It knows what news stories you like, which adverts you’ve clicked on. It knows which of your Facebook friends – or Instagram followers – you fancy.
Facebook is ubiquitous around the internet so its shares buttons appear on news sites, or are used for ID.
It follows you around the internet, tracking your every click. It then combines that information it gathers with third party sources like Experian, which builds up consumer profiles based on credit card spending and other sources.
As John Lanchester writes in the London Review of Books: What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business.
But the same goes for all the tech giants – they’re very, very thirsty for your personal information.
So the right to be forgotten is something quite profound.
First, you have the right to know what Facebook knows about you, not just what you’ve uploaded, but the conclusions that the company has drawn, then sold on to advertisers trying to sway you.
Then you’ll have the right for that information to be removed. That could represent a shift in our relation to the digital platforms that control much of the modern world.
It will rely on people taking it up of course. You can already ask any company for the data it holds about you, for a £10 fee, under something called a Subject Access Request. Few do. (Even though you can find out how attractive, say, Tinder thinks you are.)
The impulse here isn’t a Luddite one. Data is becoming the fuel of the AI-based economy, the coal to the steam engines of a new industrial revolution.
By giving consumers control of their data, it means businesses can be more confident in how they use it.
Rather than pushing the boundaries of people’s privacy, they know the data they do process is there by consent – and safe to use.
That feeds into another part of the bill: making sure data can flow freely. This is crucial to the economy and something that might have been threatened by Brexit.
That also illustrates another point. The Data Protection Bill is pretty much identical to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It has to be, to ensure the flow of data.
The GDPR also contains the right to erasure, the right to be forgotten. It’s been in the works since 2012 and has been more or less ignored by the mainstream media and general public.
When a law is promulgated from Brussels, it’s boring, bureaucratic meddling. When the British Government announces the same thing, it dominates headlines and strikes a blow for freedom.
We’re again realising, a little late, that the wonks in Brussels might have been on to something.
(c) Sky News 2017: How much dirt do social networks have on you?