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ISSUE 53 page 8

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Sites of Interest
Social media catch on with MEPs as rôle-playing game developed
 WEB 2.0 SEEMS TO FINALLY BE CATCHING UP WITH Members of the European Parliament according to their staff. A recent survey, which examined the communication habits of MEPs by asking their senior assistants, found that they had increased their access to social media such as Facebook, twitter and web logs, or blogs, by four, five and three times respectively since 2007. Interestingly, when asked to forecast the usage of digital media in three years time fewer respondents believed that their member would be using Facebook than those who reported its use today while twitter was expected to continue to be more common. Emails are seen as the most effective way for a constituent to contact a member, closely followed by written letters, but more than twice as many parliamentary staff recommend using a blog or microblog such as twitter as compared with a year ago. MEPs are also believed to be most likely to reply by email. Whether the increased uptake of social media followed special classes at the
parliament dubbed MEP 2.0 is uncertain but there is a belief that twitter will be preferred by MEPs in future because it takes up less time and is more unlikely to result in debate.Meanwhile an IT project team from the European Service Network (ESN) has designed a virtual 3D world which enables citizen-avatars to move through the EU assembly’s buildings in Strasbourg, Brussels or Luxembourg, debate issues, publish articles in a cyber-newspaper, table legislation and even create and decorate their own parliamentary office. Its web site, Citzalia, claims that ‘It is an opportunity to hear how other fellow citizens feel about current issues and about the role of the European Parliament’ but critics have compared it unfavourably with established online world ‘Second Life’ and predicted that it will become a virtual ghost with few users and and high costs. In reply an ESN spokesperson insisted ‘Nobody knew if Facebook would work. We're trying something, and doing everything we can to ensure its success’

The web site logo for the 3D world that is under construction



 Web sites and reports mentioned in this section are available at:
 Commissoner Reding on the ‘right to be forgotten’

'Right to be forgotten’ is EU Internet aim

 THE EU’S DATA PROTECTION DIRECTIVE DATES BACK TO 1995 when Facebook, twitter, even iTunes had not yet formed the smallest clouds on the cyber-horizon and the future founders of Google were just about to meet each other. Now the rapid spread of these and other social networks and data aggregators has changed the rules of the information game. As well as the vastly increased speed and volume of data exchange, the way the Internet has developed has thrown the spotlight on the individual as people have increasingly posted their private details (there are 500 million users on Facebook) and interactivity has become the hallmark of Web 2.0. According to Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding the EU has ‘the best data protection laws in the world’ but the new challenges posed to them by technology require new legal remedies. The first principle of the reform of the directive will be individuals’ right to control their own data. A special concern is the ability to wipe out data that we no longer wish to be available (if you delete your Facebook account your details are merely hidden) which is not always possible at the moment. Commissioner Reding calls this the ‘Right to be Forgotten’. A recasting of legislation in this area is likely to affect existing law, such as the Data Retention directive that obliges telecom companies to keep telephone and email records for up to two years, and agreements with foreign countries like the sending of air passenger data to the US authorities.
Other consequences of reform could be the harmonisation of data protection rules between Member States which should be good news for the large US IT companies such as Google, who found their ‘Street View’ software banned in Greece and the protection agencies. Companies will also be expected to have their own data protection officers. After a period of public consultation the Commission will come up with proposals during 2011 but it would seem to be a difficult task to reconcile the views of the EU’s BEUC consumer protection group: ‘the consumer's right to privacy should not be undermined merely because it has become easier and more profitable to break it in the virtual world’ and Google’s CEO Eric Schmitt ‘In this new future you're never lost ... We will know your position down to the foot and down to the inch over time’.

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