The Right to be Forgotten

Introduction:

Ever since the invention of computers, and especially the internet, humanity has created and stored a huge amount of information on events, objects, people, and much more. In the past, most news information was consumed either in the form of newspapers or later with the invention of the television. The creation and handling of media were in the hands of the companies and publishers in charge of these outlets. Only with the introduction of the internet did this shift of media creation and consumption occur.

Up until recently, a news article in a paper, no matter how important, would surface for a period of time and eventually be forgotten. With the digital footprint of the internet, this is no longer possible; every article, blog post, or other piece of information created and posted, is stored and remains accessible to everyone forever. This powerful system of storing data and making it available to everyone, has contributed greatly in improving the quality of everyday life , but it is important to note that it does hide some dangers.

Now more than ever, through the use of social media and mobile technologies, people find it more common to share their personal information over the internet. Most people publishing such data do not realize the quantity and quality of the information they are giving, nor the ability of systems to aggregate information from multiple sources and derive relations which the publisher may not have wanted to share.

In many cases, the information being uploaded is not relevant to the uploader but to a third party, such as a news article regarding an event or a person. It can be understood that there are cases where the referenced person may not want such information being accessible to any interested party, something well within their personal rights. At this point however, it is important to differentiate between data that should be obstructed to protect the basic human rights and data that should remain available to assist with future research or for the greater good.

In this project, we will investigate these issues and do our best to survey the work already conducted on this issue.  We plan to reach some conclusions regarding the current state of things, from a legal as well as a social standpoint. We will also try to make some predictions for the necessary changes required so that the “Right to be Forgotten” is implemented fairly both for the person of interest and for the benefit of the community.

Methodology:

We will study the right to be forgotten in terms of the present and future consequences. In order for this to be done, we will first present the current situation, focusing on the legislation, some case studies, and relevant literature on this subject. Following, we will present problems that occur when projecting the issue onto the future, as well as the changes to legislation we consider necessary. In closing, we will consider the implications of information obstruction, and attempt to define the kind of information that should and should not be removed.

In order to study the present state, it is helpful to take a look at some case studies of people who invoked the “Right to be forgotten”, and investigate how such cases influenced changes in the current state of the legislation. For example, a much scrutinized case involved a spanish man requesting a redaction of Google’s search results which included unfavorable mentions of his past business enterprise. That case sparked a heated debate inside the European Union, and is an important milestone in our study. On this issue, it is important to also study the relative legislation concerning the collection, processing and storing of data, as this directly relates to the issue at hand.

Furthermore, it would be interesting to look into some of the opinions expressed by the general public. As the amount of information that people share over the internet increases, users are starting to become more conscious of the fact that they have exposed personal information, and are concerned about the possible implications of this information coming back to haunt them. People have spoken against large corporations retaining all that information, while others argue that this collecting of information is necessary in order to fuel further breakthroughs in services made possible by utilizing such information. Both standpoints have valid opinions and should be examined carefully to gain a spherical perspective on the issue.

When looking at the future, one of the most important questions one should ask is how that information can possibly be used maliciously, or in any way that the user did not intend. With the advent of increasingly powerful machine learning methods, as well as the ever-increasing data that these algorithms can be trained with, there exist powerful systems which can deduce information about the user that he didn’t explicitly provide. This can be seen in the sense that some information provided by the user now, which may not may not be available presently in a search engine’s results, may possibly be made available in the future through the use of such trained systems.

Due to the evolution of social media and mobile applications that collect information, there is a large amount of sources that gather information about the user. Relevant information about a user can be gathered from different disjoint sources, and matched together without the consent of the user. The user should be aware of such risks and reserve the right to effectively withdraw his personal information.

Another important aspect of this issue, is information made available without the consent of the user, including information illegally or unethically acquired. Due the vast reach of the internet, and the fact that data can be very easily replicated and distributed in-between various sources, erasing such data is extremely difficult, if not infeasible. In that case, perhaps the web search providers should be responsible for obscuring such information, and thus make their retrieval more difficult. For example, a recent incident involved celebrities having photos of a private nature getting leaked on the internet and quickly spread over the internet, to the point where it was impossible to eliminate all copies.

An important aspect we need to address are the ethics involved in obscuring information publicly available. Data which can be of value to the general public should not be retained only to facilitate personal gain of individuals, unless it can be ascertained that it is either erroneous or a violation of personal rights. To that end, it is important to study the nature of the information that is being requested to be forgotten, and argue about the kind of information that should not be removed. The importance of this information should be taken into consideration to ensure that future research will not be hindered by overly aggressive removal of content.

Project plan:

  1. The right to be forgotten and its different forms
    a) Brief introduction to the “Right to be forgotten”
    b) Introduction to the two states, present and future
  2. The current state
    a) Reasons for requesting removal and different viewpoints
    b) Current legislative state
    c) Various cases related to the subject
  3. The right to be forgotten in the future
    a) How new technologies facilitate the gathering of information and build systems for collective analysis
    b) Ease of access to information and difficulty in removal
    c) The importance of information in the future and whether it should be removed or not
    d) Required legislative changes and discussion

Milestones:

  • February , 2016 :
    – Review relative literature, case studies and relative information
  • March , 2016 :
    – Introduction and continue reading
  • April , 2016 :
    – Current state of issue
  • May , 2016 :
    – Future Problems
  • June, 2016 :
    – Changes required and conclusions

Group Members:

  • Hilali Abdessamad
  • Ioannou Konstantinos
  • Sympetheros Alexandros