The Right to Be Forgotten

Google’s Eric Schmidt has said, on a few occasions, how he thinks that teenagers should have a right to be forgotten (or a delete button for their past).  This right would allow for teenagers to delete information posted about them (either by themselves or other parties, like their parents) if they deemed that information embarrassing.  There is a certain logic to this idea; we all do stupid things as teenagers that we’d rather people didn’t remember (and the internet has a long memory).  Outside of the European Union (which has discussed the idea seriously since 2010), this idea was mostly academic in the United States.

Recently, California enacted a law that allows minors to remove content they posted (starting in 2015).  The California law is relatively limited: it only allows for the individual to delete content they generated, but companies do not have to remove this information from their servers.  The law also does not allow for the deletion of others’ postings of the person’s content.  In other words, you can delete your own tweets but not the retweets (or shared statuses, or any number of other forms of digital sharing).  This seemingly makes the law rather toothless, but the idea raises a number of concerns.

First, as the Center for Democracy and Technology points out in the BBC article above, there is a potential chilling effect.  Content hosting sites might limit their functionality for younger users since they rely on posted data for their advertising revenue, due to legal uncertainty.  This is a fair concern, but one that likely will not come to pass.  The California law does not permit a person to delete reposts of their content or have the content deleted from the site’s servers.  These limitations ensure that some value remains in what younger internet users post to sites like Facebook or Twitter, even if these users can delete the original post.  Facebook can, for example, still analyze whatever marketing data produced by the status (even if it is deleted) because they retain a copy of it.

The second concern, as addressed by law professor Jeffery Rosen in the Stanford Law Review, is more difficult to navigate.  There are free speech concerns in allowing individuals to potentially shape what others have to say about them online.  People could potentially abuse the right to be forgotten to squelch criticism.  Even without a right to be forgotten, people occasionally try to force other internet users to take down embarrassing information about them.  Shortly after the Super Bowl, Beyonce’s publicist tried to get content aggregation site Buzzfeed to remove a number of unflattering photos of the singer.  Instead of taking the photos down, Buzzfeed opted to highlight a few of the more humorous photographs.  These photographs then moved on to internet meme status as the disagreement became news, highlighting how hard it is to remove information posted by others on the internet.  If the right to be forgotten existed at the time, Beyonce and her attorneys might have had the photos removed through a legal order.  Furthermore, such a broad right to be forgotten is likely unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court stated that the First Amendment protects the right to publish truthful information that one acquired legitimately (Florida Star v. B.J.F., 491 U.S. 524 (1989)).  This precedent likely applies to information published by third parties.

In other news, Dish Network’s ad-skipping technology on the Hopper avoided getting enjoined in a Los Angeles Federal court.  The ad-skipping software can stay in place until the case concludes.  The actual opinion was not released, however, so I can’t say more on that in the meantime.

Finally, Valve announced that they will release their own Linux-based operating system (called SteamOS).  While I’m a little skeptical of the odds of getting the whole PC gaming community (or even a large portion of it) to move to Linux, SteamOS does have some neat features worth looking into further.  The major intriguing one (for me) is the ability to stream games installed on one device to another device on the same network.  As someone who occasionally likes to game in front of his TV (usually playing a strategy game of some type), that sounds like a useful feature.

Anyway,  that’s it for today.  See everyone on Friday. 



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