Tuesday, May 27, 2014
"Privacy through obscurity" is no longer realistic, even in Europe (or on Europa Mars, or Titan).
There are a couple of partially contrasting takes on “the right to forget” in major newspapers Tuesday. In the Washington Post, on p. A15. Craig A. Newman writes “Europe’s ruling may cost dearly,” titled more specifically online, “A ‘right to be forgotten ruling’ will cost Europe”, link here. Newman argues that the European court made matters worse by leaving the interpretation of the “right” to search engine companies. Smaller startups simply won’t “conceive” in Europe; innovation, growth, and jobs will stagnate somewhat as a result.
In the New York Times, in a column in “The Upshot” Claire Cain Miller has an article “On your permanent record: It’s not as simple as asking to ‘be forgotten’ by Google”, link here. Cain reports that technology experts are calling for “new standards of online etiquette and responsibility”. That’s pretty nebulous. Cain suggests that new kinds of private detective services would evolve. In the past, an obscure fact in a technically public record took a lot of legwork, maybe private detectives, to unearth. Plenty of 1940s movies have this sort of plotting. Now, any self-publisher, even like me, with no gatekeeper and no real answerability, can make someone else notable. That sounds like opportunity but for some people it represents a challenge. On three occasions (in 2001 and 2006), individuals asked me to remove their names or (in one case) a partially edited article that the person had written (on 2001, removed in 2003). In one case, I simply changed a name to initials in the online HTML copy of my first book, but it still could be found in Google Book Search if someone really wanted to find it (rather unlikely in practice). These cases were unusual and quirky enough (and not likely repeatable) that I had no problem with complying. But Cain also argues that "privacy through obscurity" is not a realistic idea any more. You may need a public presence to prevent others from defining you. If, as Eric Schmidt said, if you're doing something you don't want people to know about, maybe you shouldn't be doing it. Well, can people perform telepathy on your dreams and fantasies? It may happen more that you thing,