European privacy regulators are currently discussing what is called a “right to forget.” Basically, the provision would allow individuals to go into social networking sites and delete or “forget” their social media history.
On the surface, the proposal seems to comport to traditional notions of law. For example, statute of limitations rules are in place, in part, because people forget and can’t be expected to defend themselves from suits years old. However, I can see no practical application that would allow a digital right to forget. Proposals are either an opt-out or opt-in solution.
The current proposal is an opt-out provision. Individuals would have the right to delete their information. However, this assumes that the only location of the information is at the site where the information originated. At this point, it should be common knowledge that most all social sites make money by selling user information. In addition, other sources attempt to gain the information for free by scraping the website. Thus, it seems impossible to truly delete any information once it has been shared because information online multiplies and moves to a variety of sources.
Another proposal is that users would have to opt-in to their information being shared or collected. For many websites, it would seem impossible to use the site at all without opting-in. Imagine using Facebook without it collecting any data on you. There could be no profile or friend list. In addition, For the same reasons that opt-out would not work, opting-in after using a site seems impossible because the information is already out there.
So, the only option that is left for a person who wants a “right to forget” is to just not share digitally in the first place. As a result, individuals will be left with a choice to either not participate in the growing global digital culture or have a permanent digital memory. Therefore, the right to forget becomes pointless as individuals must make the choice to share or not share and live with the consequences.