Since the European court has ruled that Google must remove links when they are requested, we can now expect ongoing discussions concerning the right to anticipate some type of online privacy. The “right to be forgotten” ruling gives European citizens the right to request that links to information about them be removed. The discretion is left up to Google to determine if the information is irrelevant, inadequate, excessive or not related to the information or the purpose of the request.
We should begin to expect more transparency as more information is revealed in the wake of the revelations that the NSA has been spying on citizens, by recording their telecommunications and digital transmissions.
At the moment, the ruling is directed at Europeans, and Google is reported to be receiving more than 10,000 daily requests. However, globally, other citizens can also expect the effect to be assimilated throughout the virtual ecosystem, as the discussion about online privacy is ignited.
North Americans, seem to need a constant reminder or should be concerned with how information that was once considered as private is being used. On the other hand, claims such as those made by Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who is on record as saying, “Privacy is no longer the norm” appear to be not much more than self-serving. The European response shows that privacy is still quite relevant, and perhaps behaviors should be adjusted, or more regulations may be necessary.
The fact is that along with the rapid technological advances, the laws and moral or ethical considerations are having a hard time keeping up, as the right to expect online privacy continues to be eroded.
All online actions, wall posts, and transmissions can be recorded, along with email messages, likes, and dislikes, and all of the sites visited, are all now in the public domain. A person’s precise location is now readily available, if he has a mobile device. There may be no place to hide, except to stay offline. However, much of this information can always come back to be used against persons and often without permission.
In the case of credit, despite having outstanding credit scores, a search result that indicates a past bankruptcy or foreclosure can be used to prevent a person from obtaining rental accommodations, loans, or even employment. This is the situation that led to the European Court ruling, and could just as easily have been in North America. The question is why should the result from a search query override regulations?
Minor offenses or sealed files that should be expunged can still be found online, and unless there are changes, the information can be retrieved from archives in the future. It is also easy to retrieve associated information such as Social Security numbers, home and working addresses and other sensitive information by entering search queries, despite the prevailing privacy rules.
Google faces the onerous tasks of removing links, which is made even more complicated by the existence of different languages and regions. They may have the resources to automate the process, but human involvement may still be necessary.
The “right to be forgotten” may seem to go against neutrality and free speech, and invoke censorship, but can also be done in a manner that protects privacy. There are still trade laws to protection information that is considered proprietary or confidential, so privacy is still very relevant in business.
There may be no easy solutions, but the issue is sure to spread to other regions as the debate continues over the right to expect online privacy. The challenge is figuring out what can be done about it while we continue to use and support technology.
Commentary by Dale Davidson