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The right to be forgotten raises concerns, gets jeers

Readers passionately debated the merits and liabilities of the right to be forgotten on August 7. You can continue the dialogue below.

When we decided to hold a Twitter conversation on the right to be forgotten, we could never have anticipated the engaged dialogue it would spark.

Passed by the highest court in the European Union (EU) in May, the right to be forgotten regulation enables citizens of the EU to request that search engines like Google and Bing remove links to "irrelevant" or "outdated" information.

Our tweet jam was a rousing and engaged dialogue, in part because this regulation is so controversial. But there was also considered, careful conversation about the pros and cons of removing this kind of data from the Web and its implications for information privacy, consumer protections as well as the freedom of information on the Web.

Our jamming participants acknowledged that while there is a worthwhile opportunity to remove information that could be outdated or inaccurate (such as wrong contact information), and that the data itself is not erased, there are serious concerns about making data harder to find -- and having search engines become the adjudicators of what we have the right to forget.

The tweet jam hardly touched on many of the issues that have made this regulation a flashpoint and we've included some of the conversation below. We hope you will continue the conversation here, on SearchContentManagement. Is the right to be forgotten a welcome opportunity to clean up outdated information, or does it place an undue burden on search engines to decide what is relevant and current because individuals want to sanitize the history books?

Tweet on and feel free to comment below on the right to be forgotten. And check out our jam from August 7 at #righttobeforgotten.

Steve Weissman, of Holly Group and tweet jam host, said that if Google can simply remove links from search results, it's akin to "erasing history," of sorts. And Sandra Serkes of Valora Technologies agreed, challenging Google's right to be the "official record of humanity's existence."

Participant and content management expert Ron Miller acknowledged the good intentions of the right to be forgotten, which gives individuals greater control over data on the Web at a time when online reputation is critical to our public and private identities. But, he noted, the ruling also opens the door to a host of ills.

TechTarget site editor Ed Burns commented on the delicate balance between data privacy and open information: He also noted the danger of allowing a single entity to decide which links stay and which are deleted.

TechTarget's executive editor Craig Stedman raised the issue of impartiality. Can a search engine really weigh these requests without bias? Executive editor Lauren Horwitz responded that the problem of bias among decision makers evaluating link removal is where "the rubber meets the road."

Participant Gordon McKay questioned the mechanics of right to be forgotten. Why remove the link and not the source of the content? He argued that removing the link places all responsibility on search engines rather than on the creator of the source itself.

Even if the source of information, not just the links, were removed -- is that information really removed from the Web? Tweet jam host Sandra Serkes wondered whether removing links, effectively altering history, might create a black market of illegal information holders. Information, after all, has become a powerful form of currency.

And in a recent tip, Steve Weissman also noted that erasing data from the Web is a falsehood.

Continue the conversation below.

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Great conversation. I too am worried about allowing the likes of Google to arbitrate what goes down in history and what doesn't. It seems very difficult to find an impartial party to handle the execution of these requests. When I first heard about #righttobeforgotten I was intrigued by the possibilities, but now I'm more worried that it will be used in negative ways. It might in fact be better to have some mistakes out there which we're all equally at risk for, rather than having a "clean" internet that potentially favors some sources over others.