The issue of privacy is an ethical issue because there is not an obvious answer to the question of “how much privacy should we have?” In Europe, the “right to be forgotten” has become a common value. This means that if information is on the internet that is no longer relevant or out of date, an individual can request that the link be taken down. When it comes to the internet, the limits of privacy are blurred. Restrictions on the internet to protect people’s privacy comes with pros and cons.
The right to be forgotten can be good for individuals who are looking to start over. As the internet has been growing, we have seen many cases of people’s lives being affected by things that have happened in their past or even things that they posted online themselves. Take Justine Sacco. When traveling to Africa, Sacco posted a tweet that read, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding! I’m white!” This tweet blew up on the internet, causing an immense amount of backlash, and even resulted in Sacco being fired from her job. Sacco claimed afterward that the tweet was meant to make fun of the way that white Americans see their privilege, but it doesn’t change the fact that the tweet was seen around the world and can still be found on the internet today. If the right to be forgotten was in effect in the U.S., Sacco would be able to have her past deleted from the internet and would have an easier time getting a fresh start after her mistakes.
Although the right to be forgotten can be beneficial to individuals, it is not all good. Many would argue that this law denies the public access to information that may be useful. For example, many would argue that if a criminal coming out of prison is looking to get a job, their employer deserves the right to know that they had been in prison, and they shouldn’t be able to erase that fact from the public. Does the right to privacy trump the right to free speech which we hold so dearly?
Another negative of the law is the fact that it is a burden on corporations like Google who have been held responsible for taking down the content as requested by internet users. This law is making them lose a lot of money paying people to check on the requests for removal and remove them if necessary.
The third negative of this law is the fact that when the link is removed, the information is not really taken down. The search results won’t show up, but if someone knew the URL to a certain page they could still get there and view that information. If the information is not even completely coming off of the web, then is there really a huge benefit to this right?