The Queen’s Speech confirmed what we all suspected – that GDPR will be implemented in the UK, despite Brexit. But the most interesting thing in the data section of the speech was, in my view, that people will have the right to “require major social media platforms to delete information held about them at the age of 18”.

The so-called ‘Right to be Forgotten’ has been a hotly debated topic in the EU for some time. Its intention is to give EU citizens the ability to stop their data being mis-used by unknown third parties, however, it was never intended to apply to data shared on social networks by under 18 year olds. In every social network contract the terms and condition normally require you to grant free transferable worldwide rights to anything you put for eternity. The simple answer is that the “Right to be Forgotten” principal was never designed to apply to pictures and conversations on social networks – but now it is.

Our attitudes to our personal data are changing. We’re starting to realise its value and its power. So networks work hard to develop user experiences that often involve us sharing personal data.

Sometimes, those user experiences are fraught with problems. Just last week, a new feature was released by Snapchat – Snap Map –  that shows the precise location of users who’ve enabled location tracking in the app. (Yes, you can turn off the feature by selecting ‘Ghost mode’ but not only do you have to know that this mode exists, but you have to want to turn in off.) This couldn’t be a better-timed example of why we need legislation to give us back control of our data. When we’re young, we may not realise – or care about – the risks of losing control of personally identifiable data. So it makes sense that as we get older, we should have the right to know where and how our data is stored – and to demand its deletion.

Risky business

Young people tend to take more risks. It’s how we learn. But social media takes our mistakes and preserves them. Risks that failed aren’t just things we can laugh about with friends anymore – they’re memorialised online. They’re there for the person on the university and job interview panel to see. They help shape a stranger’s first impression of who we really are.

But I wonder, will our attitude to risk change if we know we can delete everything at 18? How will it shape the attitudes of children and teens to what they share on social media? Will they become more aware of their digital rights? Or, will they share more, safe in the knowledge that 18-year-old them can hit the delete button and it will all go away?

How will this be implemented?

It’s easy to delete your social media profile.  It’s far harder to delete all your data. Think about everything you’ve ever posted on a social network. Where does it sit? Conversations will be stored on your friends’ mobile phones, tablets and computers. People will have been able to download, share and forward your posts, photos and videos. Some, like WhatsApp, download images and videos automatically to be stored locally on your phone. They might be automatically backed up to a cloud drive like Dropbox or Google Drive.  Your data isn’t stored in a single place.

What about parents and family members who may have posted countless photos, videos and updates about you  – will this content also be deleted, or just the tags?

Social networks will need to rethink how they share and manage data.

I think this law is good in principle. I’m sure many parents out there will be encouraging their children to delete their data when they hit 18. I’m sure that other European countries will be watching with interest to see how the law is implemented, so they can follow suit.

Is it workable?

The answer is, it could be, if the social networks rethink how they share, manage and store data. They’ll need to take an approach that allows people access to the data we want to share, without granting them the permission to copy or disseminate our information. We need a system that makes it easy for organisations to delete our data with the flick of a switch.

This is all possible, of course, if data never leaves its source, but is only viewed by other people over a social network platform.

The 14-year-old who doesn’t care if Snap Maps tells the world where they live, may grow to regret that decision. The proposed changes to our data protection laws give us the chance to remedy the mistakes we made as children, and head into adult life with a clean slate.

The proposed legislation is a great idea as part of enhancing the governments social agenda. However, if social networks are going to be required to delete our data, they first need to know where it is. There lies the first challenge to address.