In early September, the World Wide Web (remember when it was called that?) celebrated its 20th birthday. And like an attic that collects stacks of boxes and trunks filled with an assortment of odds and ends over the years, the internet is now filled with exabytes of data, much of it long forgotten after being uploaded years ago.
But unlike cleaning out the attic, you can at least get your hands on the items to peruse and then pitch or pass on to others. The internet, however, is a different story.
In early August the New York Times ran the article “Just Give Me the Right to Be Forgotten“, in which Natasha Singer laments her inability to have details about her life removed from the web and the reach of others. No doubt, a situation that many may identify with.
Back in April, the Times also ran an article on the same concern but with the more hopeful title “How to Fix (or Kill) Web Data About You.” In it the author, Riva Richmond, offered several tips on tracking down and removing information online information about yourself.
Richmond recommended starting with keyword searches on your personal information and checking online accounts you may have opened but no longer use, “especially on social networks or dating sites where you would have provided extensive personal information.” For assistance with your sleuthing, there are companies that will — for a fee — do the research for you. Once you find it, however, there is the task of removing what you have access to. For info published by others, you will then need to contact the individual sites with your deletion request. Google, for example, provides instructions on how to Remove a page or site from Google’s search results.
If you are concerned about a loss of privacy, you are certainly not alone. Several pieces of comprehensive privacy legislation are now under consideration. For a good summary, see Educause’s policy brief Data Privacy Legislation: An Analysis of the Current Legislative Landscape and the Implications for Higher Education.
According to the Educause site, “these privacy bills generally fall into three distinct areas: comprehensive online privacy protection, geolocation and mobile devices, and data security and breach notification. If enacted, many of the bills have implications for data collection, storage, and use that could affect higher education and campus IT operations and academic research.” Be sure to keep an eye on these during the coming congressional session.