Meg Leta Ambrose, It’s About Time: Privacy, Information Life Cycles, and the Right to be Forgotten

Meg Leta Ambrose, It’s About Time: Privacy, Information Life Cycles, and the Right to be Forgotten

Comment by: Stephen Lau

PLSC 2012

Published version available here:

Workshop draft abstract:

The current consensus is that information, once online, is there forever.1

Content permanence has led many European countries to establish a Right to be Forgotten to protect citizens from the shackles of the past presented by the Internet.2 But, the Internet has not defeated time, and information, like everything, gets old, decays, and dies, even online. Quite the opposite of permanent, the Web cannot be self-preserving.3 One study from the field of content persistence, a body of research that has been almost wholly overlooked by legal scholars, found that 85% of content disappears in a year and that 59% disappears in a week, signifying a decrease in the lifespan of online content when compared with previous studies.4 Those that have debated this privacy issue have consistently done so in terms of permanence and also neglected an important consideration: the nature of information. Our efforts to address disputes arising from old personal information residing online should focus on the changing value of information over time and the ethics of preservation. Understanding how information changes over time in relation to its subject, how and where personal information resides online longer than deemed appropriate, and what information is important for preservation allows regulation to be tailored to the problem, correctly framed. This understanding requires an interdisciplinary approach and the inclusion of research from telecommunications, information theory, information science, behavioral and social sciences, and computer sciences. Permanence is not yet upon us, and therefore, now is the time to develop practices of information stewardship that will preserve our cultural history as well as protect the

privacy rights of those that will live with the information



1 See Jeffrey Rosen, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” The New York Times. July 21, 2010 t2.html?pagewanted=all (last visited Dec. 16, 2011); John Hendel, “In Europe, a Right to be Forgotten Trumps the Memory of the Internet,” The Atlantic. Feb. 3, 2011 trumps-the-memory-of-the-internet/70643/ (last visited Dec. 18, 2011); Common Sense with Phineas and Ferb, The Disney Channel (last visited Dec. 16, 2011).

2 Council of the European Union, “Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions 8. April 11, 2010. See also IAPP: European Commision Sends Draft Regulation out for Review. Dec. 8, 2011 tion_out_for_review (a focus of the Right to be Forgotten emphasized information created during childhood and “shall apply especially in relation to personal data which are made available by the data subject while he or she was a child.”) (last visited Jan. 13, 2011).

3 Julien Masanès, Web Archiving, at 7 (2006).

4 Daniel Gomes and Mario J. Silvia, Modelling Information Persistence on the Web, Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Web Engineering 1 (2006).