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The Sundar-ing

12 December Subscribe
Tech news with a HAT perspective 
Issue 61

The internet is an elephant  

Problem is, it can't forget. Google has two UK trials dates in its diary, both on the same issue. The tricky concept of the 'right to be forgotten' coming head to head with the equally slippery notion of the 'public interest'. Let's explain.

Two anonymous 'businessmen' are pissed that their historical wraps on the knuckles (conspiracy to account falsely and conspiracy to intercept communications) pop up whenever potential employers or partners Google them. Oh-oh. The EU backs the legal right to be forgotten – that is, that people can assert their right for certain information about themselves to be removed from certain places – namely Google search results – in order to preserve their privacy, provided this information is not in the public interest. Whatever that means. The original record stays intact, but the road by which to get to that information is up for demolition.

You almost feel sorry for poor old Google. I mean, they never asked to be the all-encompassing gatekeepers of the world's information (did they?) and all these court cases on the guardianship of that info must be hella tedious when Alphabet have better things to do. So far Google have granted about 43% of the 2m removal requests it received under the right to be forgotten, but obviously not all of these have reached court. Is Google reeeally the one to be making these calls? How transparent are they about how they make these decisions? Maybe we should separate the search engine from the find engine... 

However you define 'public interest' (I'd probably want to know if the local vet had previously sold Ketamine), it's hard to have a 'truth' in one country and be different to another – these search engine bars would only operate in the EU. These battles with Google represent a clash of privacy cultures, see the legal argument Google is having with the French asking for a global wipe of search results under the right to be forgotten, which somehow doesn't seem like it will fly in the U.S... 

The trickiest thing is that this right seems to be implicitly about a right to forgiveness, as removing search results works something like a digital pardon. For these businessmen, their rehabilitation is central to the case. In the context of everything that is happening at the moment, with the #MeToo movement breaking ground on the front lines, the internet's ability to record historical misdemeanours of ranging degrees of seriousness suggests that we need some kind of practice for dealing with what has been done in the past (stuff we just wouldn't know about sans internet), and some way of judging who is deserving of forgiveness (and who isn't). Weird right? A sensitive moral issue like this decided by Google? Isn't Google just a box you ask questions?

The Doghouse

Data exposure isn't always digital. U.S. Health insurance company Aetna managed to break the privacy of 12,000 of its HIV patients… twice. And it's just settled the ensuing lawsuit for $17m. They achieved this breach in a shockingly old school way – by stating the fact that they had been taking HIV drugs in the clear window of an mail envelope which obviously showed their name and address too. AND the letters were sent to address a previous, though less explicit, privacy threat. Oh the irony. And rage. Hard to imagine that kind of let down from a company whose primary objective is to provide care. 

This Week in Data

The data that literally paints a picture of you. Your body measurements. Ever wanted a made to measure suit? Less likely that you've ever wondered where that date goes after you purchase said suit. But companies are saving that info in its droves, and often alongside other information  that personalised shopping services might ask – what's your job? Do you have children? What hours do you work? Preferences? It's another way companies get in on your life with little pieces of your data. I for one would love in on that data… whatever algorithms they can run on me – imagine what I could do with all that alongside, say, my calendar? 

Geek Out

Everyone's going crazy about art. The Google Arts and Culture app went viral because of a cute little machine learning face matching algorithm – matching you with art! I mean, sneaky way of getting a bunch more peoples' selfies Google… But I'm still fuming it's only in the U.S. 

Elsewhere in Techland

Deep breath. Apple paid its taxes and everyone rejoices! $38 billion dollars is apparently the biggest tax bill ever paid. Still, didn't stop the government shutdown.

Nor did Amazon's new HQ shortlist. But that's pretty exciting too. Atlanta looking to be the bookies favourite

Oh, and Bitcoin slid. In case a colleague hasn't already told you. 

Leila Trilby, Editor-in-chief
HAT News

So we've been in Portugal. You may have noticed. We promise we'll stop telling you about how sunny it was now. But we did get a tonne done. Pitch rehearsals, top line marketing objectives, final proposition tweaks – the language can get vaguer and vaguer but you name it, we discussed it.

Irene is out to Sweden this week, no rest for the wicked, for a keynote at ENTER2018 in Jönköping, a conference on digital's impact on the travel and tourism industries. Give us a shout if you're nearby! 
Jonathan Holtby, Community Manager

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