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EC data protection proposals could open up Zuck's 'social graph'

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Draft proposals on the European Commission's "general data protection regulation" have been leaked online.

The authenticity of the 116-page document (PDF) was corroborated by the EC, which The Register contacted on Wednesday afternoon.

Version 56 of the draft proposal was issued by Brussels on 29 November this year, and published by non-profit organisation Statewatch on its website.

The document says it "sets out to a proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data."

Reding said in a speech yesterday that "[t]his right to 'data portability' will be an essential element of the legislative reform."

Brussels' officials are currently fine-tuning the now delayed proposals for revamping the 1995 Data Protection Directive. Those plans were originally to be published in the autumn, but are now expected to land next month.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission in the UK told El Reg that the leaked document should not be considered as a definitive version of the EC's plans.

"Draft proposals are circulated to every department (Directorate-General or DG in short) in the Commission. This is called inter-service consultations and every DG can make comments," she said.

"Therefore this is NOT the final proposal and is subject to change before its 'adoption' by the Commission expected before end of January 2012."

However, the document provides some interesting nuggets about what the EC has been mulling over.

Among other things, it states:

To further strengthen the control over their own data, data subjects should have the right, where personal data are processed by automated means, to obtain a copy of the data concerning them also in commonly used electronic format.

The data subject should also be allowed to transmit those data, which they have provided, from one automated application, such as a social network, into another one. This should apply where the data subject provided the data to the automated processing system, based on their consent or in the performance of a contract.

That's an interesting suggestion, given last year's high-profile spat between Google and Facebook over the latter's "social graph".

Facebook is clearly keen to protect its most valuable asset - by ring-fencing that data within its own siloed network.

Its terms currently state that no one should "collect users’ content or information, or otherwise access Facebook, using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without our permission."

Google, in July this year, tried to help users ignore that term by offering up a Chrome extension that enables information about an individual's Facebook "friends" to be exported, thereby allowing data to be shuttled into competing services such as Google+.

Facebook wasn't happy, and quickly blocked the extension from being used on its site.

In November last year, Google cut off Facebook, which up to then had access to the company's Gmail contacts API. That process had helped Facebookers to import their contact details from Google's email service.

Google cut it dead and said it would only open the API up to Facebook if Mark Zuckerberg's company offered a similar data transfer interface to Mountain View.

For its part, Google - aided, we suggest, only by a melon spoon - has been trying to scoop out user data from Facebook for years now. Which leaves us with the following, yet to be answered, question: Is Brussels about to insist that process is opened up, to help players such as Google get its hands on Zuck's precious social graph? ®

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