Do we really have a right to be forgotten?

Moderated by Zack Whittaker | August 18, 2014 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: This May, Europe's top court ruled that search engines must consider requests to exclude material that is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant" from search results.

Jo Best

Jo Best




Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger

Best Argument: Yes


Audience Favored: No (63%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Difficult but necessary

Jo Best: Let's get one thing straight: The right to be forgotten isn't a right. If you've done some bad stuff in the past, the recent European Court of Justice ruling that brought in the so-called right won't just let you scrub it off the internet for good.

And while we're at it, let's get another thing straight: That right is a blunt instrument. Deciding what stories, facts, and rumours should be tied to your name forever more is not an easy business, and not something that an algorithm can decide.

Nor should it be. Google has received thousands of requests from people who want certain links to stop showing up when people search for their names, some of them have legitimate reasons for doing so, some have not.

Take for example a man convicted of a sex crime, and his victim. Should the offender have the details of his crime removed from search results? Most people would argue not. Should his victim be able to go through life without the details of the attack against her being returned in the search results every time anyone Googles her name? Most people would say so.

The right to be forgotten doesn't stipulate both requests should be granted, nor that both should be denied, simply that both must be considered. The requests do mean that search engines and others must make a call about whether the information should be highlighted to the public, but that's exactly what they do every day when they decide which stories should be in that all-important first page of blue links.

No one said those decisions will be easy, but they are necessary.

New age, new rules

Steve Ranger: There is no right to be forgotten. The act of forgetting is something that is essential to humans; we can't store every piece of information, every memory, so we only hold onto a fraction of what we see, hear or read.

There's good reasons for that – our forgetfulness makes us braver because we forget past pain, and keeps us exploring to find new experiences because we can't just replay the old ones.

But our human limitations, the accidents of our evolution, should not apply to our digital technology. It can implacably store everything, forever; the hardware might die but the data carefully can last forever. And as we record ever more data about our lives, it's time we got used to it being permanent.

It's foolish to think we can apply outmoded human expectations about what will be remembered and what will be forgotten in this new age. 




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  • Jo made the best arguments

    I would add that a for-profit search result provider should especially be held in check.
    Schoolboy Bob
    Reply 5 Votes I'm for Yes
    • Publicly REMEMBER everything for the CEOs + Staff of Google and Facebook

      Especially all the stuff they'd like to forget. May as well be as annoyingly obnoxious about it and place the most embarrassing stuff in Ads plastered everywhere so it cant possibly be missed. I think they will change their tune.
      Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
      • So your saying differnet standards should apply? Hows that equal and fair?

        How about one standard that everyone is held too?

        If you want to be FAIR.

        Everyone should be help accountable to the same standards in life and death.
        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
        • It's just sad/pathetic....IMO

          The level of hypocrisy that is displayed in today's society is overwhelming.

          I weep for the growing numbers of ignorant souls.
          Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided
        • For every complex problem


          "No publicly accessible personal data more than five years old shall be kept in public or private hands."

          As Mencken is usually (mis)quoted : "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.""
          Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Jo made the best arguments

    I would add that a for-profit search result provider should especially be held in check.
    Schoolboy Bob
    Reply 4 Votes I'm for Yes
  • Jo's initial statement...

    ...fails to explain why the current EU law is a good one. She merely notes that it isn't as broad as its opponents claim.
    John L. Ries
    Reply 3 Votes I'm for No
    • But the real question remains...

      ...should history be censored? If so, to what extent? I'll note that deliberately making data unsearchable is itself a form of censorship.
      John L. Ries
      Reply 5 Votes I'm Undecided
      • A more important question is

        who should do the censoring? The person concerned trying to hide their bad choices, Google, or Facebook or whoever is holding the data or the government by force of law or use of the courts?
        Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
      • History is already censored

        Due to the fact that almost all of recorded history is written by the victors and recent events in both China and Japan show that politics and historical narratives are being written by politics instead of facts. WWII atrocities, The Korean and Vietnamese Conflicts, somewhat recent history has shown that to be true. Rewritten historical narratives differ between the participants. enuff said.
        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided