A German court has just ruled that Facebook has a right to force people to use their real names, contradicting the Privacy Protection Authority of Schleswig-Holstein, that says the right to use pseudonyms is guaranteed by the German and European legislations on the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The Court held that only Irish data protection law applies, as Facebook’s main European office is in Ireland, a country where legislations on privacy and freedom of expression provide fewer protections. This decision reinforces Facebook’s rights to have a cost-free ownership of people’s data and sell them to companies, as these informations on people’s way of life and consumer habits are of great value.
If this view were to prevail everywhere, all information that we leave behind on the Internet would no longer be treated as personal data but as transactional data, between an individual and an institution and no one would be able to claim its ownership, or even anonymization.
Today, the situation is uncertain: the law in Europe is vague; torn between contradictory national legislations: it does not protect data ownership, and does not even enforce the anonymization of data, under discussion today.
In France, in the same way the ownership of data is not protected as such: the laws protecting personal rights (privacy legislation and the images of people), and the Law for the Confidence in the Digital Economy (LCEN) give to those who communicate their personal data, the right to access, rectify, and cancel the data, and even a right to memory lapse; but it does not affirm the right of self-ownership for everyone on these data.
We are therefore in a situation of extreme hypocrisy: no one can afford not to be active on the social networks, search engines, or e-commerce sites. No one receives any payment for data, of substantial value, left behind. It is easy for these companies to explain that they allow the use of their networks in return, and sometimes they make their users sign a document giving them permission to commercialize their personal data: Who could say no? After the exploitation of labor, here is despoiling the self, which leads to a considerable loss of purchasing power, and freedom.
The law must be reviewed: personal data must be protected directly by the law. Not only in the name of privacy, but as a commercial property. More generally, everyone must be considered the owner of his life and of what he does; none of our creations should be used or sold by others, without our approval to give it as an altruistic act, or to sell it. Each life is a work of art; it is even the most beautiful work of art that a person, an artist can create. And everyone must be considered the rightful owner of this particular work.
A proprietary right of that kind will not be achieved solely through reason, or through common sense. This can happen only if quite a number of Internet users form a coalition in a joint effort to broker negotiation with the social networks, to claim back self-ownership. The world would thus be transformed.