As we consider the next phases of management and regulation of the web, we reflect upon the last few decades of Internet developments and social impacts. It is interesting that in an attempt to reflect on our new abundance of information (some would say overabundance), I find information gaps. The removal or “forgetting” of harmful information from one’s past is a contentious topic. Comically, as I investigate whether the information flood needs to be dammed up, I cannot find information I have deemed necessary for the assessment.
Truthful information (facts or opinions), when initially created and distributed, is incredibly valuable. It is novel and informative (and generally receives First Amendment protection as newsworthy); it accurately represents the subject; it is a reliable communication from the speaker; and is heavily used by a large number of people. Organizations would call this operational information. Over time, however, this newsworthy information transforms into a record. Time generally renders the information less accurate – the subject changes over time but the information still represents the subject in its earlier state. The information is less reliable as a communication from the speaker – perhaps she no longer would communicate that information or has lost interest in communicating it. The information is also stale and rarely used. The information may eventually expire, meaning it will be deleted, anonymized, archived, or otherwise made less accessible.
The Right to be Forgotten would act as a regulatory expiration phase for harmful information that has lost its value. Because so much of the Web becomes drastically less accessible “naturally” (dead links, changes in content, changes in URLs, revamping of sites, server changes, sites that are simply abandoned), it is important to consider whether information that is in fact low value remains accessible – and hurtful. Does the combination of search algorithms, human nature, and information life cycles take care of forgetting the “right” information? In order to determine what types of sites continue to hold harmful information beyond the time period designated by regulation, it is appropriate to ask what is the average lifespan on content on the web? Is it getting longer? Can we expect the lifespan to grow or shrink in the future? How do search query results change over time? These numbers exist but are snapshots of various time periods taken randomly. In order to not see everything as a nail just because we’ve got a hammer, we must determine where and in what form information remains accessible beyond the regulatory and natural expiration dates.