Right to be Forgotten on Twitter

The EU’s proposed “Right to be Forgotten” has become a major point of contention for US companies doing business across the Atlantic–more precisely it’s a giant headache for Facebook, Yahoo, Google, et. al. RTBF is a new rule being considered as part of a revamp of the 1995 Data Protection Directive or DPD. While we may think America is the nation where privacy rights are part of the basic legal foundation, it’s the EU that has explicitly enshrined privacy in its own constitution–the EU Charter.

Now with this pending update to the DPD that’s expected to take effect later this year, online subscribers of social media services will be able to request that all their tweets and posts and likes can be erased forever. For non-Internet companies, where subscriber data is nicely stored on a disk drive, the Right to be Forgotten can be met with a simple Linux or Windows command or some SQL.

On the Web, and especially with social media, this erase-your-past ideal becomes more difficult and perhaps impossible to implement as text and data can be copied endlessly. The EU Commission, by the way, holds the service provider responsible for making “reasonable” measures to ensure that all subscriber data on third-party sites are also removed. Hence, the very public food fight that’s erupted.

The Silicon Valley titans have some valid minor points, but the EU regulators are making a far bigger point about online privacy. To my way of thinking, Facebook-Twitter-Google-Yahoo can be doing far more to protect privacy and the Right to Be Forgotten is probably the kick in the pants they need.

Along comes a lean startup called efemr to make it possible to publish tweets with a shelf-life. After allowing efemr to access your Twitter account, tweeters can then add hash tags to specify how long the post will last—e.g., #1h, #10mn. When the tweet expires, efemr takes it off the public timeline. And what about retweets of the original post? According to the folks at efemr they will still live on–at least for now.

In any case, efemr, and another startup called, tigertext give online data users far more granular control over their published content’s life span than is currently available from the major social media players. It doesn’t completely solve the Right to Be Forgotten challenge, but both these efforts are a positive move forward.