In the Internet age, the conflict between the right to free speech and personal privacy is becoming more and more of a heated issue. Some countries are seeking a solution in the form of the “right to be forgotten.”
The right to be forgotten is a policy barely a year in the making that seeks to address the issue of unwanted attention on the internet.
Under the policy, Internet users can appeal to search engines to have results which are “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive for the purposes of the data processing,” removed from the search engine.
These links will still exist on the internet, but will not appear in a list of search engine results, making them less likely to attract unwanted attention.
One aspect of the situation involves videos or pictures posted without the subject’s permission or even the creation of memes using images of people found on the internet. Bad Luck Brian, Overly Attached Girlfriend, Alex from Target—all of these are real people, and while the people in the aforementioned memes enjoyed their popularity, some were not so fortunate.
One teen was mercilessly harassed and bullied in school after his classmates posted a video of him fighting Star Wars-style on the internet without his permission. He was subsequently forced to drop out and seek psychiatric counseling due to this abuse.
Another aspect of the policy is the removal of unwanted and now irrelevant information—for example, your years-old and long since resolved teenage drunk driving accusation that might pop up every time someone googles your name.
The policy has already been considered and put into use in the European Union and Argentina. It’s meant to protect people from both harassment and unfair judgment, by future employers, for example.
Google is paving the way as the main implementer of the policy, but many other internet search engines could soon be required to comply. Google has already received tens of thousands of requests from EU residents to remove access to links from the search engine.
One stipulation of the EU policy is that Google can currently only remove results on EU internet providers; for example, www.google.fr in France or www.google.de in Germany, but not the American-based www.google.com.
Ideally, the right to be forgotten is a just solution to some of the problems posed by the internet age. I definitely like the idea of the policy, and I’m 100 percent for preventing harassment. However, it’s a policy which is nearly impossible to implement in a venue like the Internet, where a single meme can send someone spiraling into ridicule in a matter of hours and be obsolete just as quickly.
Another issue with the policy is the degree to which it can be abused. While it’s meant to protect those who have unwanted or irrelevant information about themselves on the internet, there’s also the question of what information “deserves” this definition and whether or not hiding it from a search engine can be considered censorship.
A good example is soccer player Eden Hazard’s ridiculous demands that links referring to his poor World Cup playing be removed from search engines. Not only that, but it’s easy to see how the policy might be manipulated to hide accusations of pedophilia, rape or other scandals.
The policy is currently being considered on a case-to-case basis, which is appropriate considering the nature of the internet but can also easily lead to unfair rulings or even be subject to corruption.
I wholeheartedly agree that harassment and abuse as a result of unwanted internet exposure should be avoided when at all possible, but I don’t know that the “right to be forgotten” policy is the right path. Trying to clamp down on a dynamic medium like the Internet is a tricky process which will likely result in complications and corruption. However, I do see it as a preliminary step towards a more effective future solution.