Public interest vs. Right to Privacy
In the wake of the new data protections rules which mean that Google and other search engines can be made to forget individual’s data, Samuel Fry comments on the tension between the public and private stance on sharing data.
As of last week, Google can be forced to remove data about individuals from their search engine results.
The ruling was made by the European Court of Justice and has re-ignited a debate over whether internet data is of public interest or whether individuals should have a right to their own privacy.
It is hard to argue against the fact that Google has a monopoly on people’s data.
A friend of mine once told a story about how he had personally been affected by this. This friend is an app developer and he had recently been writing code for an augmented reality app which had garnered the attention of a couple of very influential technology conferences.
One day, he received an unexpected phone call. It was Google and they were interested in his work. My friend was actually pretty delighted by this. For many web and app developers, the idea that someone from Google is interested in their work is a real compliment.
But, how had they found out about him? How did they get his phone number?
My friend asked them this. They simply laughed and said, “Of course we have your number. We’re Google. We know everything.”
This story always shocked me. But, at the same time it has never really made me feel uncomfortable. This could be my own naivety – but with so many companies trying to generate data and with an ever shifting love of wearable technology, it’s inevitable that someone will have control over this content – so why shouldn’t that be Google?
Back in September last year, Geoff Mulgan (Chief Executive of Nesta) asked a question at FutureFest. He asked the audience, “In a few years’ time, will we see Google as the good guys or the bad guys?” The audience were split between yes, no and maybe. This seems to me to be part of the difficulty. Right now we don’t know enough about the search engines and exactly how they are using this data.
In twenty years’ time, Google could be seen like the Robin Hoods of data: sharing their knowledge with the world to use as they want. On the other hand they might turn out to be like Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, masterminding a level of control over our data.
In principle, I believe that being able to collect more data is a huge opportunity. Data could help with the future of business, medicine and arts. But there will always be a challenge balancing the public’s right to information and individual’s right to privacy.