Why Millennials Born In The Internet Age Will Never Be Forgotten

by Soren Nieminen

A thousand years from now, you will likely not be remembered, but you'll be searchable.

Crumbs of your digital trail leave out traces of who you are, but it will be displayed through the warped glass of time.

Should you have the right to retain control over what is visible to the world?

The Internet is a sorting tool of information. It allows for a quick search of individuals, but it can easily distort or manipulate one's viewpoint.

How things are sorted reflect traffic paths, but very few people stray from the main trail.

According to online ad network Chitika, the top listing on a Google search result will receive 33 percent of search traffic in the United States and Canada.

Only 8 percent of users click on to the second page of results.

So, popularity is king, but what if it's inaccurate, personal or untrue material that is sorted first? What happens if you want it erased?

Do you have the right to be forgotten?

The March case of the suspended University of Oklahoma fraternity over a racist chant caught on video comes to mind.

If you Google the members of that group, undoubtedly it will show up on a search. Their names are cemented in history.

But should they be?

In 2050, when I'm searching their names, should a racist chant show up in the first results?

Understanding the system of how a search engine operates can help to quell potential concerns from a future significant other, employer, relative, etc.

Unfortunately, what is seen first can be the definitive impression.

This right to be forgotten has stemmed from a 2010 case in Spain, in which a citizen asked that a resolved auction notice of his repossessed home be taken down from a local newspaper and Google search results.

The resulting ruling by the European Court of Justice was that individuals have the right to remove links from search engine queries that include information that is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive.”

That ruling is fairly vague (i.e. How do I tell if something is objectively “inadequate”?), and the courts seem relegated to using it on a case-by-case basis.

But, the frontiers are lined with digital ambiguity.

In the digital age, our e-footprint is imprinted as more and more information is being tracked. It's a fairly unregulated front, and US laws are not up-to-date with the latest technology.

For example, the working Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 doesn't offer the same protections for digital files as it does to physical ones.

There's no doubt there will be many parties involved in updating laws around technology, but the basic point comes to the notion between public and private information.

That is what the debate of being “forgotten” is about.

What you share to a vast number of people is no longer your own.

For parents who post baby pictures that go viral as memes shared by thousands of people, does the original “owner” of a photograph have the right to have it taken down?

Or are they acquiescing to the fact every picture sits on this precarious edge of being viewed by thousands of people?

I believe I have a right to my own information, and I should be able to request that information be taken down from public search, as long as that information is not pertinent to a public record or event.

While in college, I posted up my apartment on a subletting website and could still find the listing with my address over three years — and several apartments — later.

I think people should have a right to correct information presented online, but it has to be a public and legal definition of what is owned by you.

It also opens up a technological question about how information is stored and what “delete” actually means.

We have a right to keep our deepest thoughts (and some of them may not be quite politically correct) to ourselves. That probably means not disseminating them through your Twitter handle or Snapchat.

Our tweets, snaps, pictures, texts and information is decidedly not safe from prying eyes.

I think it should be, but there is a fundamental difference between a private message between parties and publicly posting something.

I think we should approach how we look at privacy and deletion online like the principle of Economics 101: There is no such thing as a free lunch.

You pay for everything you get in this world.

For so-called “free” services like Facebook and Snapchat, you pay with your anonymous swaths of information that is sold to all kinds of business interests.

This can help serve up a better experience for users, but personal data is a right.

Popular websites capitalize off this information by adjusting headlines and strategy based on the information they get about their content.

For those of us with fairly unique names, a quick web search can glean information very quickly. I fall into that category (as the only Soren that I know), so it's pretty easy to look up my information.

The top sites are social media (Twitter is fairly easy to look at, if you have a public profile).

Increasingly, social media is integrated into our lives. It's used when we commute, when we're on the job and when we want to share pictures of what we do on the weekends.

It's also not private at all, but privacy laws should reflect the nature of private messages (akin to email) versus sharing publicly.

I think every human has the right to be forgotten on some level. At our own volition, we can “delete” or deactivate accounts, but much of our information will be kept stored on some server.

I support the right to contest information online on a case-by-case basis, but this opens up the great question of who is the decider?

Is it a court-appointed impartial judge, a tech company intern or someone else?

That's a tough question that needs to be answered.

I say we should have the ability to contest individual items about ourselves to be forgotten, but digital trails will get harder and harder to sweep away, especially as the cost of storage decreases and our digital footprint gets more detailed.