In May 2014, the European Court of Justice ruling saw Google and other search engines receiving thousands of requests to remove links to certain content deemed damaging to individuals. Sir Jimmy Wales from the Wikimedia Foundation is amongst those that have spoken out at length against the ruling. In the company’s first transparency report, it posted Google’s Removal Notices, something that Wales describes as akin to “removing the index from a book”.
As things stand, in Europe people have the right to request such removals if content relating to them is inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive in the light of elapsed time. However, apart from serious concerns raised with regards to self-censorship, it is argued that the Right to be Forgotten is actually a false promise, since the information itself is not corrected, but links to it are “silently deleted,” prompting outcries against lack of transparency and breach of public interest.
This is clearly a very complex issue, which impacts all areas of modern society, including academic research. One example would be if only the latest version of research papers were made available because certain information contained within them was deemed “inadequate” or “irrelevant”. This could potentially leave researchers unable to place current research into broader context, and different, less proven theories and perspectives within scientific debates could be excluded, leading to narrowed perspectives and possibly damaging the integrity of studies conducted within those filtered conditions.
It is, however, crucial to safeguard privacy and individual rights, but what is the best way of providing those mechanisms without causing broader infringements upon collective rights to information? The Cambridge Union Society, which is celebrating its 200th year of tradition in debating difficult topics, is now stepping up to tackle this thorny issue head on.
Mendeley is sponsoring this debate on the 23rd October 2014, which hopefully will spark some lively discussion and offer useful insights. Jan Reichelt, Co-founder and president of Mendeley will be opening up proceedings by addressing the assembly and Gabriel Hughes, who has a long tradition of working with Big Data and Analytics in companies like Google, Elsevier, and now Mendeley will give his personal perspective on some possible solutions. He will be joining other prominent speakers who will argue both sides of the issue.
The full line-up will be announced shortly and the event will also be live streamed. To be kept up-to-date with the latest and join the discussion make sure to join the Mendeley Right to be Forgotten group, and follow @mendeley_com @gabehughes or @alicebonasio on Twitter.