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Google and the right to forget

Friday, 30 May, 2014

“When evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a public interest in the information.” That’s what Google says on the form that will allow Europeans to ask for personal data to be removed from online search results. Will this help the bad guys evade scrutiny or is it a necessary move to save what remains of our rapidly eroding privacy?

The painter and programmer Maciej Ceglowski has this to say:

“Anyone who works with computers learns to fear their capacity to forget. Like so many things with computers, memory is strictly binary. There is either perfect recall or total oblivion, with nothing in between. It doesn’t matter how important or trivial the information is. The computer can forget anything in an instant. If it remembers, it remembers for keeps.

This doesn’t map well onto human experience of memory, which is fuzzy. We don’t remember anything with perfect fidelity, but we’re also not at risk of waking up having forgotten our own name. Memories tend to fade with time, and we remember only the more salient events.”

We don’t want to hinder innovation but we do need to preserve the things that make us human.


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