Technology

Can 'User as Owner' Policy Prevent Need for 'Right to Be Forgotten'?

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The complexities of Europe’s Right to be Forgotten law is causing a lot of confusion due to the vagueness and ambiguity of recent rulings, its impact on the freedom of expression, its interaction with the right to privacy, and concerns about whether it would decrease the quality of the Internet through censorship and a “rewriting of history.”

In a nutshell, the Right to be Forgotten allows individuals to request the removal of things linked to their name (e.g. information, photos, videos), which is “inadequate, irrelevant or excessive; not kept up to date; or kept for longer than necessary.” It has been defined as the right to silence on past events in life that are no longer occurring.

Sounds simple enough, right? Perhaps at first glance it is, but things start to get hairy when you really start thinking about all the possibilities. With freedom of information, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, right to privacy, and right to be forgotten, which freedoms or rights trump the other?

On May 12, 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled against Google in the Costeja case, a case brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, who requested the removal of a newspaper article link about an auction for his foreclosed home, for a debt he subsequently paid off the debts on. When the court ruled in favor of Costeja, a flurry of controversy over the ruling flooded the Internet and more than 75,000 requests from European citizens to remove information had been submitted to Google. Courts across Europe can expect to stay busy for quite some time considering each case needs to be assessed with its own merits. Each case will need to consider sensitivity for the individual’s right to privacy, type of information in question, and the interest of the public in having access to that information.

The Right to be Forgotten addresses an urgent problem in the digital age. We are in the Internet’s infancy, and people are being forced to quickly understand what personal information is being shared, how they can control who sees what, and how to safeguard private information. A lack of understanding may result in harsh consequences such as termination of a job, friction in relationships, damaged reputation, or expensive lawsuits. Deleting a photo, status update, or tweet doesn’t mean it’s removed from the Internet forever, and a lot of people are learning that the hard way.

In the world of big data, flippant sharing of information, and abundance of search technologies, is there a way data can be managed by the individual to ensure compliance with fundamental freedoms, rights and laws? Should a private, commercial company such as Google be the final arbiter in determining an individual’s online identity and reputation?

The concept of identity management by the individual isn’t far-fetched. In fact, when it comes to consumer data, the User as…

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