By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - An EU lawmaker called for tighter control of on-line social networks under a data protection regulation now being debated after some Facebook users said their personal messages appeared on their public profiles.
EU regulators are in the midst of writing new legislation that could give internet users greater control over how their personal data is used by big technology companies. One part of the regulation requires companies to get permission before "processing" people's personal data, although exactly how and when such consent would be needed is still subject to debate.
On Tuesday the French data protection regulator asked to meet Facebook after thousands of users complained private messages dating back to 2007 were visible on their Facebook timelines - the start page of a person's profile on the website.
Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Green member of the European Parliament who is in charge of the legislature's work on the draft regulation said the incident shows that users need more control over their data.
"The informed and explicit agreement of all those affected by data processing must be a guiding principle," Albrecht said in a press statement. "There will be very few exceptions if any."
Facebook said it has not done anything wrong and that the messages are in fact called wall posts, one of the website's features for leaving comments which usually appears on a person's profile page.
Before the Facebook timeline was introduced in February, wall posts were visible on user's profile pages but could also be hidden from the public depending on each user's privacy settings.
"A small number of users raised concerns after what they mistakenly believed to be private messages appeared on their Timeline," the company said in a statement.
Nevertheless EU lawmakers are taking the incident seriously.
"This case shows that some companies simply don't take privacy issues as seriously as their share price," the Commissioner for Justice behind the regulation, Viviane Reding, said at a meeting with regulators in Dublin on Monday.
The Commission, the European Parliament and the 27 member states have to agree on the regulation before it can become law. The parliament will begin submitting amendments later this year.
Web companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo!, which rely on their user's data to tailor their services to people's interests, have said they are wary of the regulation's principles on seeking users' consent. These companies' business models are also based on selling targeted ads matched to people's profiles.
Some say they worry that asking permission for the use of people's data more than they already do could hamper their services with consent-seeking pop-ups and encourage people to opt-out rather than in.
(Editing by Mike Nesbit)
Earlier on HuffPost:
Photos Of Strangle Victim
In December 2010, a former New York EMT, Mark Musarella, pleaded guilty to charges of misconduct and disorderly conduct, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/10/mark-musarella-emt-admits_n_795227.html" target="_hplink">according to the AP</a>. "Prosecutors say Musarella responded to a March 30, 2009, emergency call in Staten Island, where he snapped a picture of a woman who had been strangled. He then posted the image on [Facebook], <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/10/mark-musarella-emt-admits_n_795227.html" target="_hplink">the AP also writes</a>.
Risqué Photo Swap
In July 2011, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/22/joseph-bernard-campbell-stole-nude-photos_n_906975.html" target="_hplink">Joseph Bernard Campbell said he would plead guilty</a> to charges of cyberstalking and unauthorized access to a computer. "At least 19 women were victimized by a computer hacker who broke into their email accounts, captured risqué photographs of the women and then swapped them for the women's Facebook profile pictures, authorities say," <a href="http://www2.tbo.com/news/breaking-news/2011/jul/20/3/computer-hacker-places-risque-photos-of-women-on-t-ar-245211/" target="_hplink">reports Tampa Bay Online</a>.
'Attack A Teacher Day' Event
In Carson City, Nevada a group of six girls (ages 12 to 13) were arrested in January 2011 for allegedly posting threatening comments on the wall of a Facebook event titled "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/07/attack-a-teacher-day-face_n_806126.html" target="_hplink">Attack A Teacher Day</a>." <a href="http://www.nevadaappeal.com/article/20110106/NEWS/110109788/1070&ParentProfile=1058" target="_hplink">According to the Nevada Appeal</a>, posts apparently written by the girls contained the word "attack." "All of the girls said it was just a joke," Carson City Sheriff's Deputy Jessica Rivera <a href="http://www.nevadaappeal.com/article/20110106/NEWS/110109788/1070&ParentProfile=1058" target="_hplink">told the Appeal</a>.
In April 2011, two preteen girls from a Seattle suburb were charged with cyberstalking and first-degree computer trespassing. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/facebook-cyberstalking-preteen-girls-charged_n_854605.html" target="_hplink">Reuters reports</a> that the girls "allegedly post[ed] sexually explicit photos and comments on the Facebook page of a 12-year-old classmate" and were "accused of using the third girl's computer address to send out instant message solicitations for sex using her name."
London Eley of Philadelphia allegedly used Facebook to find and hire someone to kill Corey White, the father of her child. "I will pay somebody a stack to kill my baby father," Eley wrote, <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/crime&id=8188762" target="_hplink">according 6ABC.com</a>. A man named Timothy Bynum allegedly accepted Eley's offer, writing, "say no more," "what he look like?" and "need dat stack 1st," <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/crime&id=8188762" target="_hplink">reports 6ABC.com</a>. White alerted the authorities to the alleged correspondence between Eley and Bynum, both of whom were taken into custody in June 2011. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/17/corey-white_n_929332.html#s332101&title=Corey_White" target="_hplink">White was shot in August</a> while Eley and Bynum remained in jail.
After days of riots and looting rocked U.K. cities earlier in August, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14488055" target="_hplink">the BBC reported</a> that authorities had arrested several people for allegedly inciting violence via Facebook posts. <a href="http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/uk-police-arrests-10-more-over-facebook-posts-inciting-riots/2505?tag=content;siu-container" target="_hplink">According to ZDNET</a>, Scotland Yard had said it would seek out individuals believed to have written "really inflammatory, inaccurate" Facebook messages. By the end of August, nearly 2,000 had been arrested in connection with the riots, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/21/uk-riots-nearly-2000-arrested" target="_hplink">reports the Guardian</a>.
In April 2011, Houston police apprehended four suspects in a bank robbery case. Police said that suspicious Facebook posts led them to connect the group, including two bank tellers, to the heist. The following are among the alleged Facebook posts, <a href="http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/4-arrested-in-Houston-bank-heist-after-boasts-on-1691864.php" target="_hplink">according to the Houston Chronicle</a>: ""Get $$$" and "'WIPE MY TEETH WITH HUNDEREDS [sic]."
List Ranking Girls
An Illinois teenager was arrested in May 2011 for allegedly distributing (via Facebook) a provocative list that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/12/high-school-sex-ranking-list_n_860779.html" target="_hplink">ranked the physical appearance of 50 girls from his high school</a>. According to the <em><a href="http://www.suntimes.com/5294285-417/oak-park-police-charge-boy-who-allegedly-made-sex-ranking-list.html" target="_hplink">Chicago Sun Times</a></em>, the list in question "described the girls by explicit, derogatory nicknames and assessed their physical appearance, sexual desirability, sexual activity and other characteristics". <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/12/high-school-sex-ranking-list_n_860779.html" target="_hplink">The Associated Press lists nicknames</a> like "Fallen Angel," "Blond Bombshell" and "The Hangover." "He obviously offended people but he also has a right to free speech," criminal defense attorney Mark Gottesman<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/12/high-school-sex-ranking-list_n_860779.html" target="_hplink"> told The Huffington Post</a>.
In September 2010, <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/facebook-status-read-engaged-cops-call-statutory-rape/story?id=11626836" target="_hplink">Robert Nickson Jr, a 27 year-old Pennsylvania man was arrested</a> for an alleged relationship with a 14-year-old girl. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/facebook-status-read-engaged-cops-call-statutory-rape/story?id=11626836" target="_hplink">Writes ABC News</a>: <blockquote>A Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division's special task force, nicknamed Operation Triad, which investigates child pornography and predators, was tipped off by the county's child welfare agency after Nickson posted photos of himself and the girl online. </blockquote>
Threats On Officials
Former U.S. Congress candidate Cheryl Allen was arrested and charged in January 2011 for reportedly threatening several civil servants. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/15/cheryl-allen-charged-with_n_809596.html" target="_hplink">According to the Associated Press,</a> "The alleged threats mentioned four Morgan County judges, and other public officials [...] were mentioned by first name. Media reports said Allen had previously filed a discrimination lawsuit that was dismissed by a judge."
In late January 2011, a group of four Florida teens, ages 13 through 14, were arrested at their school for allegedly directing threats towards another classmate via Facebook. "Mistakenly believing that a middle school classmate had caused the arrest of a friend, a quartet of Florida teenagers exchanged Facebook messages discussing the killing of the suspected 'snitch,'" <a href="http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/internet/teens-arrested-facebook-death-threats" target="_hplink">reports The Smoking Gun</a>. The Smoking Gun also published some of the purported threats, detailed <a href="http://www.thesmokinggun.com/file/facebook-death-threat?page=0" target="_hplink">in the police report</a>: - "He ruined my bestfriend's life! And ima end his!!" - "Oh that little bitch is dead. Just u have to show me who he is first then he is dead." - "IMA HELP KILL HIM!! THAT PUNK RUINED OUR LIVES!! HES SOO DEAD!!"
In May 2011 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/05/woman-allegedly-bragged-o_n_858226.html" target="_hplink">Chicago resident Ruth Ramirez</a>, 26, turned herself in to police over an alleged bar brawl in April, during which Ramirez was said to have broken a glass in another woman's face. According to a statement by police, <a href="http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/news/local/chibrknews-prosecutors-bragging-on-facebook-leads-to-charges-20110504,0,2182393.story" target="_hplink">reported by Chicago Breaking News</a>, a friend of the victim was on Facebook the day after the fight and noticed a post describing the incident in detail. "She showed the post to the victim, who identified her attacker by the photograph posted on the profile. [...] The victim called police and gave them the information, and an investigative alert was issued," <a href="http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/news/local/chibrknews-prosecutors-bragging-on-facebook-leads-to-charges-20110504,0,2182393.story" target="_hplink">wrote CBN</a>.
Relationship Status Change
In February 2011, Eric James Wilson, 21, was arrested in Palm Bay, Florida for <a href="http://www.clickorlando.com/news/26860530/detail.html" target="_hplink">allegedly assaulting his then-wife</a>. <a href="http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/man-arrested-over-facebook-relationship-status/220" target="_hplink">According to ZDNET</a>, police charged Wilson with "battery domestic violence and a misdemeanor." The fight reportedly started after Wilson changed his Facebook relationship status from "married" to "single."