THE BLOG

Does Your 'Right to Be Forgotten' Exist?

07/08/2014 11:37 BST | Updated 06/10/2014 10:59 BST

As members of the European Union, the rights to which we are entitled are plentiful.

In an earlier post, I examined what the European Union's overhaul of data protection and privacy reforms will mean to you and I. Within it, I touched upon 'the right to be forgotten' which I'm keen to explore in more detail here.

To recap it will mean you are able to ask an organisation you've dealt with to delete all record of your relationship permanently. Unless the firm can prove it still needs the data for purposes for which it was collected in the first place, it will have to comply.

The draft Data Protection reforms were drawn up in 2011, the year in which research showed that seven in ten Europeans were deeply worried about organisations holding on to their personal details and felt they had little if any control over what the organisation did with that information (1). But after three busy years of online shopping, banking and social media sharing, the latest research reveals our attitudes appear to have evolved. It shows that on the whole, we seem more relaxed about sharing our personal details.

Perhaps this is because we have seen some genuine benefits in terms of more relevant offers or tailored recommendations for shopping online - or perhaps it's because we are more complacent. Our research shows three quarters of adults are not sure whether getting our details erased would be worth the effort of tracking it all down.

We also seem less trusting of brands' intentions and actions. While people are growing more aware of what their personal information could be worth, 83 per cent doubt that a company would honour a request to delete it, even if we were assured that it had.

So can companies relax about personal data and consumer fears? Not in the slightest. We may have a better understanding about the benefits of sharing our data with the brands we love, but that does not negate their responsibility to protect that data; nor does it address the serious issue of consumer mistrust. Brand loyalty is based on trust, and we need to believe that the organisations we communicate with will do what we ask when we say we want to be forgotten.

I believe companies are resisting the move because it could get complicated and costly for them. They are also worried they would no longer be free to mine or share data for business advantage without a complicated framework of permissions. If you add to that the fact that personal data is difficult to track down because it is generally distributed across electronic files and databases, social media platforms, telephone conversations and paper files, it then becomes clear that responding to an individual's request will not be straightforward. Nevertheless, the reforms are coming, and they will need to be ready. A business needs to know what they hold on us, where they hold it, and how to delete it when asked to do so.

(1) Flash Eurobarometer 359, attitudes on data protection and electronic identity in the European Union, June 2011