Tuesday, 21 October 2014

“The ruling of the Right to be Forgotten was not, in itself, a success”- Luciano Floridi interviewed by Judith Simon

Google has called in a number of experts from various backgrounds to guide the search engine in trying to understand the so-called ruling of the ‘Right to be Forgotten’, and to develop a strategy to deal with it. “The ruling has left things unclear”, explains Luciano Floridi, in an interview by Judith Simon, giving us a sneak peek in to what the ‘Advisory Council to Google on the Right to be Forgotten’ works with. Luciano Floridi is a Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Oxford, and also the only philosopher on the Advisory Board of the council: “I suppose there was a need for an ethical understanding of the issue”, explains Luciano Floridi, “and I guess I cover that particular corner of the complex problem.” 

The ruling 
As most will have heard by now, this whole thing began with a Spanish man who wanted information about himself online deleted. But instead of leaning towards the “it’s a lost battle anyway”-feeling, that mirrors what many others might feel, he decided to sue the Spanish newspapers website, and Google Spain. In the end, the European Court of Justice decided that Google would have to remove the links in their index. Please note that this meant that it is not the information itself that is removed- only the link that pops up every time someone would search for his name. And thus the fighting began. 

A moment of confrontation 
According to Luciano Floridi, the ruling does not solve the problem of the Spanish man, as the information is still available. At the same time, it delegates the responsibility of deciding which information becomes available to the search engine. Luciano Floridi highlights that as the information is still available, there is no grounds for using as harsh a word as censorship to describe the situation, as others have done. What we are seeing right now, though, Luciano Floridi explains, is a spark: there’s a moment of confrontation between fundamental rights of freedom of privacy and freedom of speech. Therefore it is important that we do not see this is a good vs. bad, or US vs. Europe, business vs. politics. 

“The ruling, in itself, was not a success” 
Luciano Floridi clarifies that in his opinion, the ruling was not, in itself, a success. “But the ruling actually has one major merit, that has to be recognized, and that merit is, we now have to deal with the problem without having any chance of sort of hiding it, behind other issues.” Luciano Floridi is hopeful that future legislation will take care of those exact points in the ruling that can be criticized, and thus better understand data protection and how to take care of private data. 

How to tackle this problem, and actually finding a solution - The work of the council 
Visiting seven countries and listening to a plethora of experts and professionals in the area, the council will deliver a report, with the understandings and strategies explained by the eight members of the council, who are independent and free to voice their concerns, both individually and as a group, explains Luciano Floridi. “We are, as a society, tackling problems that have developed so quickly and so deeply under our eyes, that the sort of deep thinking that philosophy and ethics can provide, is going to be pretty helpful. That’s at least my impression when talking to people on Google.”

Along with many others, we will be following the work of the council in this unchartered territory. If you are curious to know more about the work of the council, please refer to the full interview by Judith Simon.