A recent ruling by the European High Court set in motion a new conversation about enduring digital content and privacy. How much control do we or should we have regarding personal information online? Should we be able to unload certain things? Should we be able to make the Internet forget?
The sheer amount of data coming and going online is staggering. I see friends, pinners, followers, posts, pokes, tweets, likes and a funny meme from a friend of a friend of a friend. Someone recently included me in their google circle. I don’t even know what to do with that. It’s one more thing to try to keep track of. I don’t so much as StumbleUpon any of it as it more or less runs me over.
I’m amazed by the ease and speed at which people send out information without really knowing where it will ultimately end up. I’m also slightly scared by how much information gets put online with or without my knowledge. I once received a postcard from a local political campaign showing a URL with my name on it so I could contribute my opinion. My opinion was they should not have used my name to create an online anything without my authorization. It may seem like a minor thing, but that doesn’t make it harmless.
We are digitizing lives and relinquishing a great deal of control over where the information goes in the process. It can go everywhere (viral) or nowhere (like my blog). It exists both eternally (digital footprints) and never was (Shakespeare wrote drafts and we delete ours). “I don’t have anything to hide,” you might say. I’m not interested in hiding anything either, but I shouldn’t have to become a total recluse to have a say in how my personal information gets stored. There’s a reason libraries don’t keep patrons’ borrowing records. It’s an infringement on individuals’ rights. Ever try to close an online account for a retailer or service? Delete buttons are rare and customer service has told me they can’t due to security reasons*. If I created the account, I should be able to erase it. I should have the right to be forgotten.
I don’t mean to disparage others who participate more freely on the Internet than me. I’m only wondering if most people are doing so with full consideration of consequences beyond 5 minutes from now. It’s not as if the information ends its trip falling off a cliff and disappearing. It may get to the end of the road, but that’s just the beginning of the massive dump of digital data that doesn’t decompose.
*I have gotten online profiles deleted, by the way. It can take a little leg work, but it can be done.