If you had the opportunity to partially or totally remove yourself from the Internet, would you take it? That’s a good question. A lot of people are attracted to the idea. Honestly, can you blame them?
The Internet is sort of a double edged sword when it comes to how we live our life. We use it every day. It’s incredibly helpful but at the same time, capable of causing huge problems for us on an intimate level.
We no longer live in a world where things are easily forgotten. Everything we do, everything we say, every move we make is recorded online. Easy access to the internet and a willingness to share personal information on social media and other websites has changed our lives. For good or bad, we’re all open books.
By now we all know social media is no passing fad. As of late June there were:
- 2 billion people using Facebook
- 1.5 billion people using YouTube
- 700 million people using Instagram
- 328 million people using Twitter
- 255 million people using Snapchat
That’s a total of almost 4.8 billion people using Social Media each month.1 The amount of personal information that’s being passed around is almost unfathomable. The downside of all that sharing is you can’t control what happens to the information once it’s out there. Social media has become a torrid, long running, permanent episode of “This is Your Life.”
It’s no wonder the "Right to be Forgotten" movement is gaining in popularity. The principles are easy to understand; if there’s some tasty yet regretful morsel of information on the internet that’s attached to your name and you don’t want it there you can have it removed.
Advocates say it’s a civil right and believe that individuals should be able to request personal information be removed from the internet. Even governmental bodies like the European Union have introduced and passed legislation that requires big companies like Google and Facebook to pull the plug on content if it’s requested of them.
We don’t have anything like that here in the US. At least not on a federal level. There’s some rumblings here and there that similar guidelines will be implemented on a state by state basis. There’s even a bill in the New York General Assembly (Bill Number A05323 if you feel like reading it yourself) that aims to enact a "Right to be Forgotten" stance right in our back yard:
“Requires search engines, indexers, publishers and any other persons or entities which make available, on or through the internet or other widely used computer-based network, program or service, information about an individual to remove such information, upon the request of the individual, within thirty days of such request.”
It’s probably only a matter of time before other state assemblies see similar legislation cross their desks.
The big players don't seem too thrilled about all this. Google personally has come out against the idea and is challenging the European legislation in the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) after being fined €100,000 last May for non-compliance.2,3
Google hasn’t flat out said they don’t like the idea (at least not that I could find) but they do seem to be worried of the consequences should the “Right to be Forgotten” gain more traction.
Google’s belief is people would abuse the system if the “Right to be Forgotten” legislation gets passed. They say they’re worried about censorship. It’s a valid point. We hear a lot about Fake News and social media manipulation. Opposing sides could use the legislation to remove information, however truthful and accurate, if they don’t like what it says.
What probably worries Google more what an undertaking like this might cost if it had to be rolled out world wide. It most certainly wouldn’t be cheap. Google's likely to be fined for compliance failures if they can't keep up with the demand to delist URLs.
In someways, the“Right to be Forgotten” is little less about being forgotten and a little bit more about the “Right to have an Imperfect Past.”
It comes down to this, we’re all human and we make mistakes. Life’s not always easy. Sometimes we do dumb things that we’re not proud of and nobody should have some dumb decision hovering over their head for the rest of their lives like a little black rain cloud.
The “Right to be Forgotten” is probably a good thing. It provides a little peace of mind for the weary. There’s enough happening in the world today to be worried about. That being said, we don’t necessarily need the ability to file a complaint with Google to remove content we don’t like.
Ray Scholl, our CISO here at Security7 Networks once asked me a question:
“Would you wear a T-Shirt with your internet browsing history on it?”
From a certain point of view that question is fairly applicable regarding the context we’re discussing. The point of Ray’s question was if you’re ashamed of what you’ve been looking at online, you probably wouldn’t be okay having it broadcast for all to see. If you’re okay with it then you don’t have a problem.
The same goes for the content that pops up when you enter your name into a Search Engine or Social Media site. Maybe it’s more about thinking twice before you do something, not being remorseful after the fact.
On the other hand you've got instance where people have lived their lives responsibly and just don't want to be on the internet, period. That's a choice I can respect. In the age of social media it's hard to remain incognito.
If you don't want people knowing your business you've got a right to be left alone and there's not much that's more frustrating than seeing your name or information pop up, especially if it's incorrect.
Maintaining a healthy presence on the world wide web is an exercise in self control and restraint. But it's also a matter of being vigilant. Ultimately, having the civil right to alter the fabric of the world’s collective cyber-memory would be welcome, yes, but not ultimately necessary. Google shouldn’t be held responsible for someone else’s silly decisions.
1. Tech Crunch - https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/27/facebook-2-billion-users/