Skip to content

Privacy advocates want the “right to be forgotten”

The Technology Review reports that there is a growing movement, especially among European legislators, calling for some sort of “Internet erase button,” a way to permanently and completely remove any bit of information from the Web.

MIT's Technology ReviewSupporters argue that such a method for removing information from the Web would be useful in the cases where youngsters post things they later regret or where people have willingly submitted information to websites and want to revoke their permission to publish that information.

On its face, the notion is absurd. How on earth can you stop the free dissemination of information across the Internet? That is what the Internet was designed for: resiliency. It was designed to be mirrored and backed up and distributed so that no one threat (of whatever kind) could harm the whole of the data.

It looks like the methods for creating such an Internet erase button would involve tracking software on websites that users would have to opt-in to. Then, the information’s spread could be tracked and the data could be, with some effort, deleted.

There are all sorts of arguments against this, including the idea that the erase button would stifle the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press worldwide. Technology Review author David Zax settles himself squarely on the fence, saying that “Maybe we don’t need to forgo the pen entirely in favor of the pencil—but in some cases, at least, we ought to be able to choose which tool we’re writing with.”

Increased regulation and more numerous rules come with the “civilization” of any frontier, and the Web is no different. The fact that people could support this idea is more evidence that the Web is no longer a new, unexplored, unfathomed thing. It is settled, populated and now needs governance.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it, but we’re going to see more and more of these sorts of plans emerge in the coming years — see the entire net neutrality debate for another example. When there is real money to be made somewhere and when that somewhere is open to the multitudes, there will be calls for regulation.

I don’t like this idea. I’m a fan of the free and unfettered spread of information and the idea that our notions of “privacy” need to evolve. That doesn’t mean that my opinion will stop anything, but it does mean that I’ll be looking to light out for the next new frontier soon. I’m just waiting to see what it will be.