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A right to privacy on the Internet?


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There's been an interesting ruling by the European Court regarding the right to privacy:

Google must honor request to delete links, E.U. court says (NY Times)

The NY Times has an editorial Ordering Google to Forget on the topic, expressing concern from the point of view of press freedom.

I've been reading the comments on the first article and I have to say that I agree that there is an issue here that needs addressing, but I also appreciate that the court decision may not be a good way of doing this. Of course, as one commenter said, a bad decision may still be better than the status quo.

To summarise, if a Google search only retrieves part of the relevant information, that can be damaging to people. There are numerous examples in the comments (such the the divorcee who was falsely accused by his ex-wife of molesting the children -- the original charge is easily found in Google, but the fact that the charges were found to be baseless and were dropped was not). Similarly, for out of date information being retrieved with no indication that it is out of date (such as a discharged bankruptcy -- Google may find the newspaper article about the bankruptcy, but not the record saying it had been discharged). And, of course, the embarrassing photos/articles from the teenage years....

Privacy is especially important for the gay community, for those of us who are no fully out. I've personally had someone make a post on a gay site with my full name (I still have no idea how they got it), but the host was quick to redact that information and it never appeared in Google. I'm still partially in the closet to protect my children -- I don't want the fact that I'm gay to be widely associated with identifying information about me, at least not until my boys are a lot older. One has already been bullied at school -- I don't want to give the bullies another reason to pick on him (though I'd love it if having a gay father was so blasé that it wasn't a potential bullying reason).

What are other people's thoughts? It's not an easy topic and I'm waiting to see what Google does to address the court ruling before I come out strongly for or against the decision.

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An free and open internet is important while letting us control what of our information is in the public domain. Mozilla is running this commercial supporting a free and open web. It's at http://youtu.be/Xm5i5kbIXzc.

Colin :icon_geek:

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I think that's a tough call. I've warned people before, if you say or do anything on the net, it can haunt you forever. There have already been instances where somebody made a bonehead mistake and posted embarrassing pictures to Facebook years ago, only to have their employer find them now, causing them to get reprimanded or even fired.

I try to be careful what I say and do on the net, but in truth, if somebody really wants to track you down, chase IP numbers and all that stuff, they can find you and learn all about you. The alternative would be to live totally off the grid, never have an internet connection at home, use wired payphones and burner cellphones, and all that stuff. At some point, I think you have to trade some of your freedoms for the access to information we have and the communication we have. The key is to not be an idiot about it.

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I think that's a tough call. I've warned people before, if you say or do anything on the net, it can haunt you forever. There have already been instances where somebody made a bonehead mistake and posted embarrassing pictures to Facebook years ago, only to have their employer find them now, causing them to get reprimanded or even fired.

The problem is that it doesn't have to originate from you. One of the examples in the NY Times comments was an acquaintance that thought it'd be amusing to put the person's name on a petition about something. That petition entry now appears whenever someone searches for that person, even though it was about something that the person would never support. The example I gave above about false accusations is another -- the accusation and the charging can be easily found on the Internet, especially if reported by a newspaper, but the dropping of charges isn't usually newsworthy and hence doesn't get mentioned.

One option that's been suggested is to have search results being returned, but to allow someone to 'dispute' the links and to have that information available with the results. For example, in the case that triggered the court case, the lawyer could've reported that the debt issues that appeared in the newspaper were resolved more than ten years ago, so there's not need to think there's a problem.

There are statutes the specify time limits on quite a few things. For example, I believe credit history details are only to be kept for seven years (from memory). However, the Internet keeps those details for a lot longer. In non-major cases, is there an argument that a person should be allowed to have those details purged, since that's what the law specifies?

Maybe Google and the other search engines need a feature that when searching for people, there's a time limit on what the initial search returns. That is, web pages older than X years are not initially returned, but there's a link to allow the display older pages. That will satisfy a lot of concerns, in that someone doing a search for employment (for example) would see the relevant (recent) information, but the older information is available for research or extended checking purposes.

Lots of options to address the basic concern, though meeting the EU's constitutional right to privacy will be tricky. As one of the comments in the NY Times article said, this is right at the conjunction of Freedom of Speech with the Right to Privacy. One is primary in the USA, and the other is primary in the European Union. Reconciling the two is tricky....

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