At the end of January, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, announced the European Commission’s proposal to create a sweeping new privacy right—the “right to be forgotten.” The right, which has been hotly debated in Europe for the past few years, has finally been codified as part of a broad new proposed data protection regulation.
If someone is tired of their photograph showing up online because they want to be a private individual, or whatever, should they be allowed to demand that Google and Facebook (and by extension, their friends and family) prevent anyone from posting pictures of that person, sharing pictures of that person, or tagging pictures of that person? What if they are possibly not the primary subject in the image? Is it okay to let technology permit revisionist photographs wherein people who do not want to be in the image may opt out of being displayed in it?
Technology should, at least in theory, permit either extreme in this case (anything from amazing privacy to complete free speech), so our collective choice (for a “default setting” plus what we are permitted to opt in to and out of) may fall anywhere along a very long/wide spectrum. The issue is complicated enough that some public discourse should take place, since otherwise policy will likely be pulled only by those who have the most lose (celebrities and other people of public interest) or gain (media organizations) rather than by what is on average best for everyone.