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The Right to Be Forgotten: A Double-Edged Privacy Right

Hey there! If you‘ve browsed the web lately, you may have come across the term "right to be forgotten" in articles about data privacy. It‘s an issue that‘s been heating up in recent years. Essentially, it refers to your ability to tell companies to delete your personal data from their records. Seems great in theory, but it also clashes with other rights like free speech. In this guide, I‘ll explore the nuances around this controversial topic so you can better understand it.

What is the Right to Be Forgotten?

The right to be forgotten, also called the right to erasure, first appeared in the European Union‘s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – a sweeping privacy law that went into effect in 2018. It states that EU citizens can request organizations delete their personal data if it‘s no longer needed, they withdraw consent, or it was unlawfully processed.

On the surface, this provides people more control over their data and digital footprint. No more embarrassment over that regrettable college photo staying online forever! But it quickly proved more complex than it seems…

According to the UK Information Commissioner‘s Office, over 1.3 million right to be forgotten requests have been made to Google alone since the GDPR began. Clearly, many Europeans want their data wiped.

Balancing Privacy Against Free Speech

The right to be forgotten gained global attention in 2014 when the Court of Justice of the European Union ordered Google to remove outdated or irrelevant search results about a Spanish man named Mario Costeja González.

González said the search results incorrectly associated him with past financial troubles, hurting his reputation. He wanted the info delinked under this new privacy right.

However, free speech advocates argued the public should have access to accurate information in Google search. Deleting true facts could be seen as censorship and "rewriting history."

This case demonstrated the tension between privacy and free expression that continues today around the right to be forgotten. It‘s led to fiery debates about where to draw the line.

Some examples fueling the controversy:

  • A British politician used it to remove news stories about a past business failure. Critics said he was hiding negative coverage.
  • Google deleted news links about financial crimes under Right to be forgotten requests. But transparency groups said this amounted to censoring important public information.
  • Celebrities have used it to remove embarrassing content, which commentators argue should remain available as part of the public record.

As you can see, opinions clash on who should decide what data gets preserved or deleted! It‘s not so black and white.

When Can Companies Reject Deletion Requests?

The GDPR does allow organizations to reject right to be forgotten requests in certain circumstances, including:

  • Exercising freedom of expression (like news outlets publishing reports)
  • Archiving data in the public interest
  • Legal claims (like investigating fraud)

UK data deletion requests under the GDPR were refused at a rate of 37% according to 2021 government statistics.

But some believe these exceptions are too broad, leaving potential for misuse. It remains a judgment call on what constitutes the greater good: privacy or unrestricted information access?

There are also technical challenges to permanently scrubbing data from the internet. Experts sayDeleted data often persists in backups or archives, casting doubt on whether true erasure is possible. Messy stuff!

How Governments Are Adopting This Privacy Right

The right to be forgotten has spread far beyond the EU, with similar laws appearing around the world. Most significantly:

  • California‘s Consumer Privacy Act – Allows state residents to request data deletion rights like the GDPR. This means US companies must comply for Californians.
  • Russia – Passed a right to be forgotten law in 2015, but critics argue officials have used it to censor political criticism and other unfavorable coverage rather than protect privacy.
  • Argentina – Has proposed a GDPR-style data protection law including the right to be forgotten. Debate continues around enforcement and free speech exemptions.
  • India – Is considering data protection laws with erasure rights, but also carving out exemptions for government agencies to retain data in the public interest.

So expansion of right to be forgotten laws is inconsistent. And governments themselves aren‘t immune from questions around potential misuse and censorship. More refinement is still needed.

Exercising Your Right to Be Forgotten

If you want to request your data be deleted under right to be forgotten laws, here are some tips:

Check the law – The process differs across countries. Make sure your region has right to erasure laws on the books. The GDPR is limited to the EU.

Audit your data – You can submit access requests to see what data a company has about you. Review it before requesting deletion so you know what to target.

Craft your appeal – State you are seeking erasure under privacy laws and explain how your situation qualifies based on the permitted criteria. Be specific!

Try reputable removal services – Companies like DeleteMe and ReputationDefender offer dedicated help scrubbing your info from the web if you get overwhelmed.

But also weigh your motivations carefully before you click delete. Indiscriminate removal of your digital footprint could do more harm than good if you erase useful context around who you are.

I know that was a data dump! But the right to be forgotten involves a lot of nuance. Balancing privacy and free speech is an ethical pickle we‘re still figuring out. I hope breaking down this issue provided some clarity on the debate. Let me know if you have any other questions!


Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.