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A recent NY Times article entitled Just Give Me the Right to be Forgotten chronicles the author’s experience removing her information from a dental care marketing service list.  This was easy. Then she explains she, as a US citizen, had no right to force the company to remove her information. This type of data removal is one form of the Right to be Forgotten, and, in my opinion, a no-brainer.  People should be able to remove data collected about them. The ease with which the data is removed, however, makes me question whether we need to invest in developing a “right” for deletion. Perhaps “best-practices” and the market can handle this issue.

There is a second type of information removal that is much more interesting. The most illustrative example of this right is occurring in Spain, where surgeon Hugo Guidotti exercised his right to remove information regarding a lawsuit related to his allegedly botched breast augmentation he performed.  The Spanish government agency has insisted the content be removed from US search engines, including Google. French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated, “Regulating the Internet to correct the excesses and abuses that come from the total absence of rules is a moral imperative!” Google is fighting back in court, saying removal would be expensive and violate the objectivity of the Internet.

The US has been watching this issue with fascination, but I don’t get the impression anyone is considering it seriously – well, except me.  Writing a well-tailored law to help users move on from negative content seems possible.  Delineating the appropriate type of information, time frame, form and degree of removal could support both privacy and protect against censorship.

Like all issues related to the Internet, we must choose the right analogy.  Is the Internet an information dumping ground that must be consciously cleaned up to protect values we hold dear? Is the Internet a library? Is it a market, a town hall?  I cannot come up with an analogy that is completely free of some sort of caveat to expression.

What is the “objectivity” of the Internet? What are we protecting by not allowing this toxic information to be removed at some point? What are we losing by insisting it must remain? Are we letting people move on to be productive citizens or rewriting history? The big question: what do we want the Internet to be?

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