I came across a forum discussion by my old muckers the Open Society Foundation where they discussed whether the right to privacy on the web – specifically in the form of the Right to Be Forgotten – is a form of censorship.
I was recently asked to do my first RTBF task. A person wanted every mention of their name removed from the web, as is their legal right, and for reasons which are not owed to anyone. A tiny portion of this fell to me because their name was mentioned once in a large PDF which had been uploaded to a client site years ago. I duly removed the PDF, removed all internal links to it, and put in a request to have the URL deindexed through Google Webmaster Tools.
In other words, a very long document was removed for the sake of two words. Dozens of pages of genuinely fascinating and useful content went with it.
It’s true that we could have edited the name out of the document and re-uploaded it, but the nature of this particular request (which you’ll understand that I can’t discuss) meant that the whole document had to go.
It made me think about that Open Society Foundation chat. Quite aside from any of the debates about the legal nature of the RTBF, its advantages, and its necessity, the simple fact is that in practice, a lot of good stuff is going to be taken out – in other words, innocently censored – along the way.
About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.