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Is EU's 'right to be forgotten' really the 'right to edit the truth'?

Sharon Gaudin | May 15, 2014
With Europe's top court ordering Google to allow people to basically edit their online personal histories, some wonder what this will mean for finding the truth online.

Without a search engine's help, a lot of information about someone's life would be very difficult to find, and that, according to Khatibloo and Olds, means people can edit their online lives.

"It gives people the ability to delete the bad or embarrassing and keep the good," Old said. "They can create their own truth about themselves. What I don't like about this ruling is that it doesn't have anything to do with truth. It seems to only be concerned with covering up derogatory or embarrassing information."

Khatibloo called the move "pretty terrifying."

"Overall, it feels like a very short-term win of the idea of how to define privacy and give people control of their data, but it's really a loss for the open Internet," she added. "It puts the onus on the search engines to hide links or delete links. We're not holding people responsible for the content they put out there but that search engines have to deal with this real technical problem."

The EU ruling might be a relief for people who want to wipe away easy access to photos of them appearing drunk, stories about a college-age arrest or an old lawsuit filed against them.

However, it also means anyone doing a search on someone might not get the full story.

"One of the individual cases that prompted this ruling concerns a doctor who didn't want an old malpractice suit coming up in search results about him," said Olds. "Speaking for myself, I'd like to see if my doctor has had malpractice problems in the past, and am not wild about my doctor being able to delete this info from the Web. Now the info might be available someplace else, but if it's not shown on the major search engines, then I most likely won't see it."

Khatibloo noted that the EU didn't offer enough specifics about what is relevant and what can or cannot be deleted, which will raise some legal problems.

"It's all left open to interpretation," she said. "They're basically tying Google and other search engines up in court for God knows how long."

The EU's ruling also may spur some to take Internet searches into their own hands.

"It seems to me this is opening up the door to more darknet stuff," said Khatibloo. "We'll start to see browsers that show those hidden search results. They won't be a Google. They won't be a Yahoo. They'll be some entity that takes these archives and finds stuff that others hide. We're opening up the door to vigilantes to Internet truthiness."

Scott Strawn, an analyst with IDC, said he has some concerns about the ruling's effect on the quality of information that can be found on the Internet, but he's not too concerned.


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