In Europe, there’s a lot of discussion about whether or not citizens have the right to be forgotten, or rather, be forgotten by search engines. According to a May 2014 ruling, search engines must consider requests from the public for removal of content. Not just any content, though; according to ZDNet, the content must be “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant.” As you might guess, this concept is extremely controversial.
To some, however, the idea can be grounded in solid concepts. No matter how solid the reasoning, though, there are debatable and valid arguments against the right. Most business owners know that nothing is as simple as it is made out to be, and this case is no different. Recently, ZDNet’s staff participated in a great debate; Jo Best favored the right to be forgotten, while Steve Ranger argued that there shouldn’t be one. We’ll sum up the points made in the debate and present our own interpretation of the right, so that you can put together your own opinion on the matter.
Every Individual Has the Right to Be Forgotten
This is an argument that is easiest to refute. For the sake of argument, let’s say that a criminal has just been released from prison. They are excited for a second lease on life, but everywhere they go, they’re given strange looks; even people who don’t know them at all. That’s when they realize that the Internet contains all of the information about their crime – news articles, prison records, interviews, et cetera – and it is one big reason why people know who they and what they have done.
Whether or not the criminal’s information should be eliminated shouldn’t be decided by an algorithm. The information might not be relevant, but then again, what defines relevant? The criminal may have paid their debt to society, but whether the information is “relevant” or not is subjective to one’s own opinion.
Requests Are Taken, but Not All Are Granted
This is the meat and potatoes of Jo Best’s argument. The key thing to note about the right to be forgotten is that Google has no obligation to grant all requests that are made. All that is required to happen is consideration. Best argues that someone cannot understand another by examining Google’s search results, but claims that it is a difficult decision to make on Google’s part. Of course, it should be noted that this belief doesn’t support the notion that everyone has the right to be forgotten, but merely defends that it should exist – at least, on a fundamental level.
Using the aforementioned criminal, let’s look at this theory. What if they committed crimes against another individual, and both parties want to absolve themselves of the search results? Perhaps the victim wants to forget about the crime and find resolution. Shouldn’t they have that right? The criminal, on the other hand, may have performed an ugly crime. Should they be absolved of that guilt, or haunted by it for the rest of their life? Now you see why this concept is so tricky.
The Right to Be Forgotten Doesn’t Exist
Steve Ranger isn’t nearly as liberal with his analysis of the right to be forgotten. He thinks that it shouldn’t exist at all due to a “flaw” in human nature. Forgetfulness occurs naturally in human consciousness, but thanks to the existence of data, it is becoming less and less of an issue. Things are growing more “permanent,” so to speak:
… our human limitations, the accidents of our evolution, should not apply to our digital technology. It can implacably store everything, forever; the hardware might die but the data carefully can last forever. And as we record ever more data about our lives, it’s time we got used to it being permanent.
It’s foolish to think we can apply outmoded human expectations about what will be remembered and what will be forgotten in this new age.
Of course, his opinion is his own. Whether or not you agree with him is your choice. What are your thoughts on the right to be forgotten? Let us know in the comments.