We have scampered like feral brats across the Isle of Sodor, untrammelled by the rigid lines of regulation in the real world.
The cyber landscape was utopia for the wild children of the sixties. The grown-ups had no idea what we were up to, they didn’t understand how to turn the key to enter our magical playground.
We gave ourselves silly names, ‘Flopsy’ and ‘Bugalugs’, and when we grew tired of the anarchy, we made up some make believe parents to instil order. ‘Flopsy’ became the Fat Controller, and we gave her the right to decide which way we ran, ‘Flopsy’ was still one of us though, only a make believe parent.
Inevitably, some of us grew up, and some grew up to be bullies and perverts, cruel and manipulative; they still had a key to the playgound. Stlll hid behind their soi-innocent nicknames.
Thus it was that the Isle of Sodor became a dark and dismal place, we never knew who was a friend and who foe, we trusted the Fat Controllers, we came to believe that they were like real parents, committed to our care and protection. We told them our secrets, who we really were, put our faith in them in this make believe world of hidden identities. Some of them turned out to be the very bullies and perverts we had come to fear. They taunted us, threatened to tell our parents and teachers our deepest secrets.
Now the real grown-ups have taken charge again. The European Parliament has stepped in and decided that Social Networking Sites – for that is what they call our interactive playground – is subject to the laws of the real world.
Those who set the games, and those who appoint themselves Fat Controllers are legally responsible for us.If they want to play at being parents, they must behave like real parents, with all the responsibilities and duties that implies.
The committee of Europe’s data protection regulators, the Article 29 Working Party, has published its opinion on the legal status of social networking operators. Social Networking Sites (SNS) are ‘data controllers’, with all the legal obligations that brings. It has said that the sites cannot escape their legal obligations just because content on them is often produced and posted by users. Being a data controller under data protection legislation brings with it greater legal responsibilities than being a data processor. The opinion said that social networking companies count as data controllers under EU law “even when their headquarters are outside of the European Economic Area”.
The opinion also outlines the obligations of people who count as data processors. They must be clear about their identity, must offer privacy-friendly default settings to any service they offer, should provide users with privacy warnings and should give warnings to users about the potential privacy implications of their actions.
It is not just our ‘pretendy parents’ who are regulated. The opinion said that users of social networking sites could also attract the same legal obligations, but only if they were acting on behalf of a company, association or in pursuit of commercial, political or charitable goals.
What does it all mean? In plain language, it means that the people who run forums must be clear and open about their identity, they must protect our identity and information that they receive from us when we register. The same thing applies to people who post on forums, if they are posting on behalf of a political or charitable goal, rather than just as an individual.
Some forums, and notably some of the proliferation of forums discussing the Madeleine McCann case, have become dark and frightening places, a forest of competing agendas, dark threats, and manipulative mind games. This is not a ‘new’ law, this is a clarification of the existing law. This is the European Parliament making it clear to the Fat Controllers that they are not outside the law, they are being watched, and there is legal redress for those who have been victims of their bullying and sadistic games.
For those who prefer a less whimsical account of the law, the opinion is printed HERE.