Europe recently granted one man the “right to be forgotten,” meaning Google and other search engines have to remove links pointing to past misdemeanours.
This is a controversial ruling that could fundamentally change the way search engines collect, store, and use data.
Despite this, the MakeUseOf readership gave a collective shrug of the shoulders when asked for its opinions on the subject matter.
We Don’t Really Care Either Way
We asked you, Do You Want The Right To Be Forgotten? Judging solely by the low number of comments made during this discussion, most people don’t have strong feelings one way or another. Which is in itself a rather startling revelation.
To be fair, those intelligent and serious-minded individuals of the MakeUseOf community who did offer their take on the “right to be forgotten” came out strongly in favor of it.
However, that’s probably because the only people who were keen to have their say on the matter are those passionate about privacy and the wholesale collection of data by companies such as Google. The same way people only vote in elections if they’re passionate about a particular party or candidate.
So, the few people who took part in our discussion support the “right to be forgotten” but the conclusion has to be that most people don’t care either way. Which will likely save Google a lot of time and effort when the expected wave of requests to be forgotten turns out to be a mere trickle instead.
Comment Of The Week
We received several great comments, including those from Harshit J and dragonmouth. Comment Of The Week goes to Tom W, who won with this phenomenal comment:
First of all, I feel sorry for the Spanish man in question. He’s been through a lengthy court-battle that ended in a historic ruling in his favour. Old and irrelevant search engine links will be removed now, but a lot of new articles covering the story have been created, meaning that he is in exactly the same position as before. I haven’t written his name here, but it only took me about 5 minutes to find the ruling that names him.
I think this situation is very simple. A private citizen has a right to privacy in every case where information about them is not of public interest. Basically, if the information being public could protect another person from physical, mental, emotional, or financial harm, it should be public. In all other cases, it should be private if that is what the citizen wants.
The information being removed from search engines doesn’t prevent it from being found if it is required to make an informed decision. For example, if someone fails to pay their mortgage and has their house taken away, that information is available to any financial institution who is looking to give that person a loan. They won’t need to Google it, so it won’t matter whether it’s on Google or not. Any instance where this isn’t true indicates a broken system that needs to be fixed.
Finally, an important point is that people change. I won’t be the same person tomorrow as I am today. The change will be very small, but over the course of several years the cumulative changes are very noticeable. After a few years, any information about a person becomes not just irrelevant, but unreliable. If it is still relevant, reliable, and accurate, it’s likely that the information would have been reiterated more recently and removal of the old links won’t have much of an impact. Since search engines are always striving to provide relevant and accurate information, this ruling could actually help them become more useful to people.
That’s all about private citizens, which is what the ruling covered. Several of the requests, made to Google since the ruling, were made by public figures and companies. I believe that such information is always relevant, and should not be removed. If such people have changed their behaviours, beliefs, or practices, since the information was published then they should endeavour to communicate such a change publically, which will naturally rise to the top of search results and make removal of older links unnecessary.
There’s one last thing that I want to add, and this opinion will likely be an unpopular one. In the case of the “man convicted of possessing child abuse images” mentioned above, I think that a request to have the information removed should be seriously considered, as long as a suitable amount of time has passed. Our justice system works based on penance paid. Once someone has passed through the justice system and have finished their punishment, they are considered safe to re-join society. They essentially get a second chance. If you have any concerns about someone who has served their time, your primary problem is with the justice system and not the person themselves. Time and energy are better spent changing the system than on doing internet searches. In many cases, such information being available online could lead to vigilantism, which is not a good thing in any developed society. But, as I said above, removal of the information should only happen a suitable amount of time after such a person has finished serving their sentence.
We chose this comment because it displays intelligence and common sense, and is extremely well written. The commenter also risked causing fury by arguing the case for an alleged paedophile to have the “right to be forgotten.” Which is bold and brave on a medium not known for letting logic interfere with emotion.
We Ask You is a weekly column in which you have your say about a particular subject. We ask you a question each week, with the results compiled and compressed into a follow-up article the following week. This column is nothing without your input, all of which is valued.