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October 14, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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@Google v @Spain: #TheRightToBeForgotten

Every time I talk to my Mum, she asks me if I’ve been keeping warm, if I’ve felt many earthquakes lately, and then she tells me off for posting drunk pictures or swearing on my Facebook profile. Apparently, potential employers and my Nana don’t approve. I’d never admit this to her, but it has got me thinking about privacy settings, stalkers, and stuff lasting forever on the internet.

The law around privacy has got hugely complicated lately as a result of the interwebs, and I don’t pretend to know all of it—there are entire law firms around the place that just specialise in media law—but I have a few bytes of knowledge to share with you all.

Firstly, if you post private information about someone, and a reasonable person would consider the publication of that information to be highly offensive, they can sue you. Which sounds exciting, but it’s probably going to cost you a lot of money and be really stressful—so don’t.

Where it all starts to get interesting lies in the fact that it’s really really hard to delete stuff permanently from cyberspace. If someone posts private or embarrassing information about you, they might apologise, they might pay you money, they might delete the post from their Facebook wall, but chances are it’s still out there.

Two weeks ago in California, the Governor signed in a new law that forces social-media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to give minors the option of permanently removing posts they have made.

Over in Europe, the courts are currently dealing with a case between Spain and Google about whether or not there is a “right to be forgotten”. Mario Costeja, a Spaniard who owed a lot of money in social-security debts, had his house sold at auction, and details were published in the newspapers. Costeja, embarrassed, asked Google to eliminate all links to the newspaper articles so that he couldn’t be searched. Google said no. The European Court of Justice is still deciding. Whatever the outcome, the case raises some really interesting questions about data-privacy laws—there’s a tension between the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression—and the role of companies like Google or Facebook as arbiters of content.

Unfortunately, because the law develops in response to social needs, it will probably always be one step behind.

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