The internet is a sorting tool of information. It allows a quick search of individuals, but can easily distort or manipulate one’s viewpoint. I can feel Big Brother’s ever watchful eye as the vast amount of collectible information about me is synthesized through service providers, search engines and applications.
How things are sorted reflects traffic paths. According to online ad network Chitika, the top listing on a Google search result will get 33% of search traffic. So what is popular gets sorted, but what happens if something is popular and you want it erased? Do I have the right to be forgotten?
This right to be forgotten started with a 2010 case in Spain where a citizen asked that a resolved auction notice of his repossessed home be taken down from a Spanish newspaper and on Google search results. The resulting ruling by an EU court was that individuals have the right to remove links from search engine queries that include information that is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive…” That ruling is fairly vague (i.e. how do I tell if something is objectively “inadequate”?) and the courts seem relegated to using it on a case-by-case basis.
In the digital age, our e-footprint is all around us as more and more information is being tracked. It’s a fairly unregulated front and US laws are not up-to-date with the latest technology. Some robustness has come out of the EU’s GDPR, but there remains more to be done in other countries. In the US, for example, the working Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 doesn’t offer the same protections for digital files as it does to physical ones.
For parents who post baby pictures that go viral as memes copied and shared endlessly, does the original “owner” of a photograph have the right to have it taken down? It seems like a very black-and-white case, but by definition what you share to a vast number of people is no longer your own. I believe I have a right to my own information and that I should be able to request that information be taken down from public search, as long as that information is not pertinent to a public record or event.
For those of us with fairly unique names, a quick web search can glean information very quickly. I fall into that category–the only Banana Fire Guy that I know–so it’s pretty easy to look up my information. The top sites are social media (Twitter is fairly easy to look at if you have a public profile). I feel our society is increasingly nonchalant about sharing information. Witness the growth of Snapchat or other social sharing tools. Increasingly social media is integrated into our lives. It’s used as we commute, are on-the-job or when we want to share pictures of things we do on the weekends. It’s also not private at all.
I think that I do have the right to be forgotten in the web search format, but it doesn’t seem that right extends to social media. At our own volition, we can “delete” or deactivate accounts, but much of our information will be kept. I support the right to contest information online on a case-by-case basis, but who is the decider? An impartial judge or a Google intern or someone else? That’s a tough question that needs to be answered. I say we should have the ability to be forgotten, but digital trails will get harder and harder to sweep away, especially as the cost of storage decreases and our digital footprint gets more detailed.