In a bid to make personal privacy policies for online search and social networking sites clearer and more concise, Ed Vaizey the UK Culture Minister, is proposing a new Google and Facebook privacy code.This would make it more understandable for the user and entail changes to the current UK Personal Information Online Code of Practice [1], which is used by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

This ICO code was only introduced a few months ago (July 2010), which explains how the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) applies to the collection and use of personal data on-line. So data held by online companies must be relevant, and not kept longer than necessary as well as the data storage procedures being adequate. The whole idea being to highlight to the user what data was being taken, why, what it was to be used for and who gets to see it. This would force site owners to ensure their privacy policies and procedures were open and transparent. The code also highlights certain rights that individuals have over their personal data.

But where it seems the minister thinks the code falls short is in the area of personal redress against the online companies. His proposals would give UK citizens greater power over these companies if they thought their personal data was being misused in any way.

At present the code is full of guidance and phrases like 'this could be a breach', 'it is good practice' and 'practices you should avoid' but appears to fall short of 'thou shall' or 'thou shall not'. So in effect the document that tells online companies to be clear and concise needs to be changed so it becomes …………….. clear and concise.

For its part Facebook said "We look forward to hearing more about Mr Vaizey's plans and continuing to work with both him and the ICO." But Google have so far kept quiet.

[1] www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/detailed_specialist_guides/personal_information_online_cop.pdf

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