Imagine If You Could Clean Up Your Personal Data on the Internet
The Europeans have done it, why can’t we?
Usually I try and offer helpful ideas and hints on items relating to various aspects of publishing. Therefore, it may seem that I am going off on a tangent in this post, but please bear with me.
It is not very often Europe has better ideas than America but it happens occasionally—Champagne and cheddar cheese chief among them—but recently the European community sort of demanded that people be allowed to clean up, indeed remove, data from search engines and I think we should do that here.
I have never ever submitted any data about me to any search engine, yet if you Google me you will get over 5,000 returns—not as many compared to Googling “champagne” with 71,200,000 returned or “cheddar cheese” with 3,250,000.
A great deal of the information online about me is out of date. There is also information about me that I regard as personal, rather than business related, and there is information about me that is just untrue. At no point did I actively ask for my information to be added and I am not really aware of ever having been asked about it. Sometimes you are asked to agree to “conditions” and I expect this is how my data get added, but if search engines are making money out of my data, or websites, or telemarketing companies, why is it only Europeans that get to clean their data up? Why can’t I?
Supposedly, if you do not want telemarketing companies calling you, you can get on the “do not call” list. There is a “do not mail” list as well. The trouble with these two lists is that disreputable companies do not subscribe to them, so “Rachel from Card Member Services” feels free to call at any time. Much of this information is collected from the Internet, so why should we not all be allowed to clean up data about us, and remove it if we want?
Back in the 1980s the United Kingdom passed the Data Protection Act, which basically says you have to opt in to get information rather then opt out. The direct mail industry recognized this was a good idea because the people opting out would not buy anything anyway. List costs dropped because there was less to rent, postage costs dropped because you mailed less, and response measured as a percentage increased making promotions more cost effective. In other words, by making the data more accurate, we got better results.
The Internet has a few good uses—listening to any radio station online, downloading music, getting the news, and so on. Another good use of the Internet is obtaining information and it makes sense to ensure that information is as accurate and up-to-date as possible, so why can’t we delete information that is wrong, irrelevant or just plain embarrassing? Often it is said that once “it is on the Internet, it is there for good”… but why can’t it be got rid of? It does not take that long for information to appear on the Internet, intentional or otherwise, so getting rid of it should be just as easy.