Deleting Data

Like Tim Berners-Lee, I find the “right to be forgotten” law in Europe to be dangerous. The tremendous growth of data in our world means that searches become increasingly important in order for us to find data. If data is removed from searches, then for all practical purposes, it might cease to exist.

I think that is disturbing. As a data professional, I try to ensure that the quality and integrity of data is maintained. I really to try to avoid ever deleting data (preferring to archive or hide it) in case it’s ever needed later. Far, far too often I’ve had someone ask me to remove something, only to have them ask for it’s return a short time later.

I know that this law isn’t removing the data. The original sources will still contain the data, but search engines won’t return it. On one hand that means that many of us won’t ever realize that the data exists. In some sense, this will return us to the very limited, analog search engines of the past, where we depending on indexes compiled on microfiche to find information stored in libraries. On the other hand, perhaps this will give rise to data investigators that will develop their own methods and archives that enable them to offer services where they can find the “forgotten” data.

I can’t decide if I think this law is a huge step back, or a correction against some of the overzealous data creation that occurs in the spur of the moment. Certainly data about past events is valuable and important, but the way much of the world uses a search engine, clicking on a link or two and accepting the information as valid, can be misleading. Time will tell if this is a good idea or not, and I’m curious to see how well the law performs.

Steve Jones

 

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1 Response to Deleting Data

  1. Tim Mitchell says:

    I agree with the approach of not deleting data. It reminded me of an old post of mine on the topic: http://www.timmitchell.net/post/2009/04/07/never-delete-data/

    While there are business cases for completely removing data, I prefer a design pattern in which the data is archived, not simply erased.

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