The right to be forgotten

Posted by Flux on 

19 March 2013

What’s trending now ?

A tweet by futurist and author Dr Leonard Sweet:

In the future, the “right to be forgotten” or to erase your data footprint and be anonymous, will be fought for as a basic human right. – Leonard Sweet (@lensweet)

What is trending now, or becoming more of a contentious issue, is our right not to be known, to remain anonymous. If you think that you are anonymous, just Google your name or your cellphone or ID number, I’d bet you will be surprised.

Why it’s important?

A couple of things have popped up in the lately that are highlighting this trend.

The most significant being the Instagram controversies. First, without asking your permission, IG gave all of its 100 million active users public web profiles, unless you had your profile set to private. You can still go and change your profile to private by the way and opt out of this feature. Then in late 2012, they announced a change in their ‘terms and conditions’ which seemed that they were planning to sell of your photos to third party advertisers, without your permission and with no revenue to you. This caused, of course, a massive outcry on the social media networks with many people threatening to close their accounts if Instagram is planning to go ahead with something like this. Instagram was very quick to reply on their blog, with a we-didn’t-really-mean-that-it’s-all-a big-misunderstanding post. They since, re wrote their T&C’s and took away the 3rd party clause.

Pinterest, an online pinboard of images that have been up till not too long ago, basically public. Anybody anywhere can run a search on pinterest, whether they have an account or not, and stumble upon your pins. Recently Pinterest launched ‘secret boards’, that give you the option of creating boards that only people you share them with can see.

This practice of giving out your information then allowing you to opt out, is fairly common around the social media sites. Facebook, for example, allows others to tag you in posts and then gives you the option to remove the tag.

Where it starts to get a little more concerning is with FB’s controversial biometric technology, launched in 2011, which has the ability to recognise faces in photographs and suggest tags for other users. The issue has been that this happens without your permission. You can go and remove the tag of course or opt out of the whole process in your privacy settings. It has since been switched off in the EU in Oct 2012 (article)

However when you combine this technology, remembering that Facebook possessed 60 billion photos by the end of 2010, with 2,5 billion estimated being added every month, with Facebook’s controversial data use policy where they can give your or some of your data to any relevant 3rd party then things get interesting. Who uses your images and markets to you, or can find you when you don’t want to be found is no longer in your hands.

Read more about it here, also here is a simplified version of Facebook’s policy

What’s the Butterfly Effect?

On a superficial level, this will affect greatly how we think about celebrity. When everyone is famous, then no one is. The new celebrity will be anonymous.

We will see a lot more court battles for the fight to be anonymous. The challenge being, of course, is how to you balance our right to be anonymous with the need to protect our nations against terrorism, child pornography etc?

Being able to say what you want to say without being prosecuted, the freedom of speech would come into question. If, for example, one should protest an organisation or government, what would be preventing them from running the news images through a biometric search leading to unlawful prosecution or persecution?

We will see the return of pseudonyms. George Eliot the famous author will return, she (yes she) wrote under a pseudonym to protect her identity and especially to not reveal her gender in a time when a woman writing was not acceptable.

The Pioneers and Global Hotspots

Social media sites are driving the loss of the anonymity with Facebook and its affiliates leading the pack.

On the flip side sites like are offering users complete anonymity without keeping an archive of any posts. This site has been, allegedly, the birth place of the internet vigilante group Anonymous, and has also been in controversy over inappropriate and illegal content being posted.

Also see the image posting service, slogans like ‘photos with an expiration date’, ‘Exercising your right to be forgotten’ stand proudly on their homepage. This service posts for you to facebook and twitter and automatically deletes your posted pictures (even those of cappuccinos) after seven days.

By: Pierre Du Plessis

About Pierre

Pierre is a communicator, a dreamer and a troublemaker. He loves how we are all connected in more astounding ways and more than we ever thought.
He is completely obsessed with life in contemporary culture and he wallows in new ideas and marvels at how they can restore and re – create our world.

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