The rise of social networking, along with the Web's ubiquitous presence in daily life, has made the concept of immortality more tangible, but a group of 80 Internet academics is challenging Google to be more forthcoming as to how it removes information about individuals from cyberspace.
The letter points out that Google, among other search engines, has been enlisted to make decisions about the proper balance between personal privacy and access to information. However, these giants of information face little public scrutiny, even though they shape public discourse and serve as massive catalogues of information.
They writers argue the public should be able to find out how digital platforms exercise their power over accessible information.
The group released the letter on May 13, just about a year after the right to be forgotten policy started within the European Union. Google faces more scrutiny in Europe over privacy issues compared to the US, and the search engine giant has struggled to keep up with some of the requests coming from Europeans.
The right to be forgotten -- RTBF -- a concept discussed and put into practice in the European Union (EU) and Argentina since 2006, is a complicated notion involving the right to privacy, freedom of expression, and a sort of statute of limitations on the use, or misuse, of private information regarding past actions.
The letter states:
Beyond anecdote, we know very little about what kind and quantity of information is being delisted from search results, what sources are being delisted and on what scale, what kinds of requests fail and in what proportion, and what are Google's guidelines in striking the balance between individual privacy and freedom of expression interests.
In a May 2014 ruling, Google Spain V. AEPD and Mario Costeja González, the Court of Justice of the European Union found that individuals have the right to ask search engines like Google to remove certain results about them.
According to Google, the company has received over 250,000 individual requests concerning one million URLs in the past year, and has delisted from name search results just over 40% of the URLs that it has reviewed.
"Naturally, there is some tension between transparency and the very privacy protection that the RTBF is meant to advance," the open letter acknowledged, noting the revelations that Google has made so far show that there is a way to steer clear of disclosure dangers.
The consortium implores the search giant to find a balance between individual privacy and public discourse interests.
"The public deserves to know how the governing jurisprudence is developing," the letter, written by Ellen Goodman, a professor of the Rutgers University School of Law, and Julia Powers, a researcher with the University of Cambridge's law faculty, concluded.
"We hope that Google, and all search engines subject to the ruling, will open up."
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