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Technology Trends: The Right To Be Forgotten
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Technology Trends: The Right To Be Forgotten - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: The Right To Be Forgotten

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: The Right To Be Forgotten

"The Internet never forgets," says a well-known word of caution, an easy way to remind people that if they don't want some bit of personal information to be seen by everyone, they should never post it, broadcast it, or secretly share it online. Even such supposedly show-and-erase services as Snapchat have proven to be vulnerable, and the recent stolen celebrity photos from cloud services have highlighted the reality that we are all at risk.

Privacy issues are complex and multifaceted, and they are not going away, even as public-interest entitities such as the European Court of Justice rule in favor of public push-backs. In May 2014, the ECJ agreed that citizens in European Union nations had the "right to be forgotten" by non-media websites, such as search engines, in cases where information is "inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive," according to a Reuters story.*

In the first months of this new right, tens of thousands of private citizens (public figures would appear not to be covered by this ruling) have applied with Google to have links removed from search results, revealing some of its benefits and flaws. Each application is dealt with on an individual basis, for example, costing search engine companies time and money. The erasure of links from search results means a revenue hit on content producers who rely on search engines for traffic and ad rates. And in September 2014, an appeals "toolbox" was created so applicants rejected for forgetting would have a systematic, supposedly objective chance at an appeal.

Meanwhile, the content itself remains online, meaning that someone truly determined can easily find a way to the "forgotten" content. And since Google.com, for example, is an American-based website ostensibly serving an American clientele, it does not fall under the ECJ's jurisdiction, and the forgotten links still show up in searches sent via that specific website, making the European regulation and all its related expenditure of resources practically useless, unless it is a foreshadowing of a worldwide trend toward a kind of mandated privacy protection that, so far, hasn't gained much footing in the United States.

What the issue seems really to come down to, from a regulatory point of view, is that it's okay for the content to exist (nobody seems to be telling newspapers or bloggers to remove content that is "irrelevant" or "inaccurate," and in the case of print media, old content has always been available to anyone with a library card), but it isn't okay for that content to be easily found, if someone prefers that you not find it. Yet that very easy access to information, without too many restraints or filters, is one of the things that makes the Internet the powerful, useful resource it is in so many disparate, seemingly unlinked ways. And yet again, some completely useless, irrelevant mention in a college newspaper chronicling some stupid, embarrassing, ultimately harmless behavior in an era when nobody could have predicted it would so easily be discovered thirty years later can damage relationships, personal and professional, all these years later if stumbled upon by someone looking for much more meaningful content that casts someone in a positive light.

"Privacy" is a word whose meaning is changing every day, as evidenced by the ever-evolving privacy policies and terms of service we agree to every day without actually reading them. Any time such important concepts appear to be teetering on the brink of some shift in policy, attitude, or practice, there is opportunity for establishing ideological, mercenary, political, or educational position. What will be yours?

 

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