In Europe, you have the right to be forgotten, onilne.
The European Court of Justice ruled today that links to “irrelevant” and out of date information could be deleted from Google’s search engine on request. The Court was, however, very vague on the definition of “irrelevant” and “out of date”
The EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, commented on the decision in a post on Facebook; she said it was a “clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans”.
The ruling confirms the need to bring today’s data protection rules from the “digital stone age” into today’s modern computing world.
Google and many commentators and pundits, including the writers of this blog, believe that this ruling leads to a quagmire of differing definitions of irrelevant and out of date information.
James Ball of The Guardian writes:
The court didn’t establish an absolute right to vanish: “a fair balance” should be sought between the public’s right to access given information and the “data subject’s” right to privacy and data protection.
This creates a real quagmire for any company offering up information online: after how long does a bankruptcy ruling become something that should be private? Is that different if the subject is a celebrity or a politician? What if they offered the information voluntarily (or sold their story) in the first place? How about drug use, or prostitution, or murder? What if a person stands for public office a few years after having their search records scrubbed?
If nothing else, deciding such issues on a case-by-case basis will require huge teams of compliance staff in every tech company (and probably most media companies), and will tie up courts on the limits of each provision for years to come.
We also believe that the difference between opinion and matters of fact will complicate many requests for the deletion of content; if someone made a post fifteen years ago saying someone was a jerk for reasons of X and Y, is that out of date information? What if the person still believes the other is a jerk?
It almost feels like a fanfic plot bunny, but it’s a serious consideration now for any corporation - for-profit or non-profit - that does has an office (like Google does) in the EU.
On the Internet, where every day is a week and ever year is a new generation, is anything ever inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive? When some have “lived” online for over twenty years, how ancient and archaic does a comment have to be before it should be returned to the scope of privacy?
Can it be “reverse-engineered” into the system after all this time? Should it be?
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