The Right to be Forgotten: Abuse of data shifts attention to online privacy laws

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Information hacks and the abuse of data has sparked a push for stricter internet regulations.

In the digital age, information is power, and collecting data from someone's online footprint is key to how companies advertise and attract potential clients online.

But with questions over how certain information is used and data breaches becoming a constant occurrence, the pushback for privacy is beginning.

"For a long time we've sort of thought, we get all of these services for free, and we think of ourselves as Google's and Facebook's customers. We're not. You and I are their products," Consumer Watchdog privacy and technology project director John Simpson said.

Consumer Watchdog wants more Americans to be aware of the Right to be Forgotten. That is when a person can request a search engine to take down a link that he or she feels no longer applies to their life.

Currently, in the United States, only California offers this right to minors.

When someone requests a search engine to take down a link, the company does not have to the carry out the request. It is done on a case by case basis.

"It starts first with the search engines honoring reasonable requests, and if that doesn't go far enough then people have the right to take it to court," Simpson said. "That's all we are talking about with the Right to be Forgotten. We're talking about the links. We're not talking about removing the articles themselves."

"I think there is going to have to be some sort of balance between what really has a right to be removed and forgotten and what you just kind of have to take for the fact that you put it on the internet in the first place," social media consultant Tiffany Starnes said. "You are, at the end of the day, responsible for what you're putting on the internet. In that case, you have to be careful about putting it out their first because you may not be able to get it removed at a later date."

As momentum shifts for more privacy, starting next month Europeans will have the right to contact a company and have that company delete the data collected and tracked of them.

"It's only being talked about because the Right to be Forgotten is one of several rights that go along with the data privacy issue and certainly it's being driven from the European Union," Loyola Law Information Privacy Professor Ray Areaux said.

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her. Such data must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law. Everyone has the right of access to data which has been collected concerning him or her, and the right to have it rectified and compliance with these rules shall be subject to control by an independent authority.

Local businesses who track customers online could face fines and penalties should they track and collect a European citizen's information while they are in Europe.

Areaux warns even local companies need to be aware of the new European regulations.

"If you haven't done anything yet, you need to do it like yesterday. You need to get on this or get some consultants to help you go through this exercise, understand your data flows and be able to identify data and the request that might come in," Areaux said.

Simpson believes with the recent controversy involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica similar laws and regulations could become a reality in the U.S. in the near future.

"All I'm saying is, when it comes to control of the data, you ought to be able to know what they are gathering about you and then have some say in how it's used," Simpson said.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.