I’ve read some really interesting articles lately about the immortality of data on the internet – a topic I’ve discussed previously. The most notable recent articles include:
- Ars Technica: Google + Facebook + alcohol = trouble
(woman removes incriminating photographs from website while searching for jobs)
- The Register: German court orders shutdown of Wikipedia
(German family sues Wikipedia for posting the real name of deceased hacker son)
- The New York Times: Keeper of Expired Web Pages Is Sued Because Archive Was Used in Another Suit
(company sues The Wayback Machine for ignoring omission request)
In meatspace everything decays, including history. In cyberspace bits and bytes have the capacity to stand the test of time. Are we, as private individuals, entitled to the graceful decay of the past?
Let’s address the case of the recent lawsuit by a German family challenging Wikipedia to remove the real name of recently deceased hacker\phreaker, Tron. Being a non-profit organization, and thus not having a deutschmark to spare, Wikipedia was quick to comply. However, the gesture was purely for show. Wikipedia is contributed to and edited exclusively by the general public, and the gentleman’s deleted name was replaced very shortly thereafter.
The terms required to prevent a lawsuit have been met, and the matter has not changed one iota. The name can be found on both the German and English sites (in bold, no less), as plain as the nose on my face. The real name of Tron may as well be displayed in lights on Broadway. In fact…
As long as this truth is known by someone who is aware of an internet repository of information, it will never be dulled, obscured, or forgotten.
The matter of archive.org‘s Wayback Machine being sued is equally frivolous. The terms of the lawsuit regard the service’s failure to reliably obey the webmaster’s passive request of content omission. This request was “voiced” in the form of robots.txt – a text file optionally placed in the domain root of a web server, which is optionally interpreted by automated services like search engines and archivers which may optionally choose to obey the commands in the file. No signed contracts + no obligation + no precedent == no court ruling. The archived data, unless actively requested, will remain publicly available.
Then there’s the flip side to consider – content which is forcably removed (or whose removal is demanded with force).
For example, take my favourite blog, SixthSeal. Proprietor Poh Huai Bin was recently threatened by police to remove illegal content from his web server, leaving the blog a still excellent but diluted shadow of its former glory. Thanks to internet archives, the taboo content lives on in nearly all its glory, including most of the contraversial photographs and videos. The URL for this content may as well be displayed in the corner of the TV screen during the Superbowl. In fact…
Showoffishness and smarminess aside, my point is simple. If you want it forgotten, don’t put it on the internet. With the trend of digital cameras being put into everything, the issue remains of one’s privacy being violated and shared without their consent. However, this is perhaps a topic for another day.
There are topics I’d love to discuss publicly, but I cannot afford to have them come back to bite me in the cyberbum. I urge you, my scores of loyal readers, to exercise restraint when voicing your spicier thoughts online. You never know whether a prospective employer, jealous mistress, spiteful nemesis, or mischevious child will happen upon your immortalized nuggets of incriminating gold.