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When it comes to Facebook, EU defends the 'right to disappear'

New European Union rules planned for later this year will put the EU on the leading edge of privacy laws. The moves could have a profound effect on companies like Facebook.

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A close-up image of the logo of the social network 'Facebook,' is shown in this March 28 photo.

Stephan Jansen/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

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"Leaving Facebook? It was a Kafkaesque nightmare!" says Sean McTiernan, a 20-something Dublin arts journalist, who tried to quit the social network but found that Facebook really didn't want him to leave.

It's rare enough for a young person to ignore the magnetic forces of Facebook, doubly so for someone working in an industry where social media is becoming paramount. But Mr. McTiernan says he was simply exhausted by all the "oversharing" among his online friends. He knew the break wouldn't be easy (and what would become of his social life?), but he forged ahead to pry himself from his virtual community.

"In the end," he says, "I found a program that deleted, one-by-one, every single comment I'd made, every photo I'd uploaded, and every post on my wall."

But even that wasn't enough to convince him that he would vanish. "I revived my profile and left it blank: no pictures, no posts, no friends. It felt safer that way," he says. That way, based on his reasoning, he can make sure he's not on Facebook by maintaining a shadow presence on Facebook.

If the European Union gets its way, people like McTiernan may have an easier time erasing their online selves. The EU wants to give Internet users the right to what the French call – literally, the right to oblivion.

EU in vanguard of Internet privacy

Viviane Reding, the EU's justice commissioner, is pushing for tougher privacy safeguards in an effort to give Internet users more control of their personal data that is collected, stored, mined, and could potentially be sold by companies like Facebook, Google, or any of the vast number of sites where users upload photos, provide private details, and, every once in a while, post something embarrassing.

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