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%)

Closing Statements

Freedom to move on

Jo Best

Do we really have a right to be forgotten? No, unequivocally we don't - the original right to be forgotten ruling didn't give anyone an absolute right to have their misdemeanours removed from the internet.

What it did give us though is an understanding that Google et al have a duty to make sure that the information they return for searches on our names is up to date and relevant. Given that should be their business model in the first place, it's not an unreasonable ask.

What it also showed us is that striking the balance between what the people should have a right to know - what their public figures are trying to hide from them – and whether information about individuals not in the public eye should be allowed to atrophy is hard.

Not every request for delinking is a legitimate one and search engines need to appreciate that. Just because it is cheaper and easier to accept a request, that doesn't mean it's right to do so. Google is, for better or worse, the gatekeeper of our internet experience – when we need to find something we don't know, we head to Google first. Google needs to take that responsibility seriously, challenging those that would misuse the right to be forgotten and, in the rare cases of legitimate requests, allowing them to quietly disappear from a single set of search results.

Thanks to online journalism, the dominance of Google, and social media, we have outsourced the act of remembering to an online infrastructure with capabilities far beyond that of any individual human mind. We've gained a huge amount from that, but human memory is not set up to work that way. We shouldn't remember everything, eternally – we need to be free to move on. Without a right to be forgotten, Google will trap us in our pasts, forever.


Over-reaction risks censorship

Steve Ranger

We don't and shouldn't need a right to be forgotten. Allowing accurate but old information to be hidden or erased is a damaging over-reaction that pokes holes in our collective memory and risks censorship by the backdoor.

In any case, the failing is in us, not the search engines; the technology has only served to highlight our own foolishness. We should be smart enough – and human enough – to understand that what we see online is only a fragment of someone's life, not the whole, and behave accordingly.

As such we should no more judge someone based on an out-of-date news story than we would judge them based on a drunken Facebook post from a decade ago.

And so far, the way that right to be forgotten is being applied seems inconsistent and arbitrary, making it even harder to support. In the vast majority of cases our right to remember should trump an individual's right to be forgotten.

See also:

Persuaded by the better argument

Zack Whittaker

Although the general principle of a "right to be forgotten" -- at least in its simplest terms -- is something with which I fundamentally disagree, I'm handing the win to Jo. Her points made for an overall better argument.

If you were wondering if there was a line that won me over, it was this:

"If we don't build forgetting mechanisms into our digital services and digital lives, we'll prevent humans from ever growing up, being allowed to change their opinions, and starting again. Equally, we must take responsibility ourselves — if we don't do, write, share stupid things, we will have less chance of having to plead with a data controller to remove them later on in life."

Steve had good points and made strong arguments, and won the majority of the public's vote. But, even though I was personally on his side from the start, my persuasions turned towards the end.


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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