Vicki McLeod

UNTRENDING: Upon death, do we have the right to be forgotten?

Social media expert Vicki McLeod ponders what your online footprint will look like after you’re gone

When we were researching our recent book, Digital Legacy Plan (Self-Counsel Press 2019), co-author Angela Crocker and I asked people what they wanted done with their digital assets and online identities after their deaths.

While some wanted their profiles preserved or memorialized, and most wanted tangible assets bequeathed in some way, many people we talked to said that their preference was to “delete it all.”

A new question is emerging as lawmakers struggle to catch up with rapidly advancing technology and our ever-expanding digital integration.

Do we have the right to “delete all”?

A recent European court of justice ruling regarding the EU’s “right to be forgotten” legislation has Canadian lawmakers examining the need to create our own right to be forgotten.

As it stands, it is not clear whether Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the law that relates to data privacy, provides a guaranteed right to be forgotten.

Essentially, the law allows for a process known as de-indexing or de-listing, in which embarrassing, irrelevant, or out-of-date information no longer appears in Google search results.

The ruling in the EU determined that the right to be forgotten guarantee only applies within the 28 EU states, meaning a citizen’s request for de-listing does not apply on a global scale.

In other words, I can’t Google your de-indexed embarrassing or irrelevant information in Sweden, but I can in Canada.

Maybe. The issue is a complex one.

The basic argument is one that is becoming all too familiar as we navigate the digital landscape: the personal right to privacy versus freedom of expression, and the right to information.

This is a complex enough set of principles to define and place into legal context. Adding to the complexity is the global scope of companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

Laws and rights that may apply in one country do not necessarily apply in others. And legislation varies within countries from province-to-province or state-to-state. As we invest more and more of our daily activities and our personal identities online, more friction arises between our personal and corporate rights.

In a recent article on the EU ruling, Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa specializing in internet issues, was interviewed.

According to Geist, it’s still not clear in Canada whether a search engine would have a legal obligation to remove links upon request.

He said, “I’m not convinced we have a right to be forgotten.”

Given this context, and the surety that we will all, one day, die and leave a significant online footprint behind, it becomes more important than ever that we are mindful about what we post to our digital platforms.

Here are a few internet basics:

• Declutter your newsfeeds. Remove out-of-date material, or languishing websites.

• Don’t post potentially embarrassing photos of yourself or others.

• Refuse to share or repost inaccurate, false, or misleading information.

While we are living, let’s practice good digital citizenship so that when we are gone, we can be remembered (or forgotten) as we choose.

– Vicki McLeod is an author, TEDx speaker, and award-winning entrepreneur. She is a business and personal coach and consultant. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or find her at www.vickimcleod.com.

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