An Individual’s Right to be Forgotten

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Right_tobe_forgottonBig data is all about finding ways to manage the increasing volume of information being kept on consumers presumably to help with making purchase decisions and fine-tuning the customer experience. Through data science and machine learning, technology-driven businesses have the ability to know more about their customers and potential customers than ever before. Service providers like TellApart, AdRoll, and Rubicon Project target online ads with unparalleled precision. Big data is a steamroller that’s been accelerating for several years now, but if there’s one thing that can possibly slow down the big data gravy train it is push-back from consumers concerned about their privacy.

Making international news recently was the ruling of the European Court of Justice that Google and other search engines can be forced to remove search results about ordinary citizens linking to news articles, websites, court records and other documents if the information is deemed “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” – even if it is truthful.

Subsequently, Google has been hit by thousands of requests to erase links to personal history. The demands can be submitted on a web page that Google opened in response to the ruling. There are a number of issues to resolve about this ruling, not the least of which is defining what personal information is “irrelevant or no longer relevant.” What if a careless or incendiary comment somebody made in a discussion forum a few years ago created a major backlash and still pops up as a leading Google search result? What if there is a local newspaper item from a decade ago about a conviction for petty theft or solicitation for prostitution? What about an old photo about a drunken college escapade? How are these individual cases itemized and categorized? Which ones can be legitimately deemed “no longer relevant” and which ones might be highly relevant for future employers, clients or fiancees?

It is easy to see how Google could be facing 10s of thousands of pleas in coming months. If each one has to be processed individually and even if a fraction of them require professional evaluation by lawyers or ethicists, this could turn into a massive project. It’s probably quite likely that many initially rejected requests will be resubmitted and lead to prolonged debate.

Clearly the time for an individual’s right to be forgotten is here.

I’m certain that Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Venice, California-based Snapchat, is probably wishing a lot of his sophomoric college shenanigans that pervade the Internet could be forgotten. You can enjoy the sentiments expressed in his expletive-laced emails as a student at Stanford HERE. By the way, Spiegel is the genius who turned down Yahoo’s acquisition offer of $3 billion for his company that basically has no revenue.

One valid question is just how concerned the average Internet user is about their online privacy? There must be a reason why Facebook recently offered to give a privacy checkup to every one of its 1.28 billion users. Further, the New York Times reports that nearly nine in 10 Internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital foot-prints, according to a telephone survey of 1,002 American adults by the Pew Research Center.

Another important question that requires scrutiny is what possible form of technology might respond to consumer push-back? It could be something in the form of the Google European Court of Justice decision, or companies like Facebook getting serious about privacy. Or is something more radical on the horizon?

Another path could be something truly disruptive. One new cloud security company in Silicon Beach is pushing its new “forgetfulness” initiative of providing technology to allow SaaS firms to add a forgetful element to their online applications. Using a patent pending system, Standard Clouds, Inc. delivers a unique solution, a forgetful platform for users to interact online without jeopardizing personal private data. Users will be free to enjoy online activities without losing control of personal information. This revolutionary platform provides a forgetful foundation for the IT industry to either integrate existing web services (SaaS services) or create secure and private WEB2.0 services from ground up. Their first offering is a forgetful search engine called

Only time will tell how consumer privacy concerns may rock the big data boat. It should be an interesting next few years.


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  1. An alternate point of view — the irony of tech companies that attack electronic surveillance while mining the same data for profit: