There’s a corollary to that old saw, “On the Internet, information lives forever,” and it’s this: “There’s no such thing as a magic eraser.”
But that doesn’t stop people from trying. Like this case of University of California, Davis and the ‘image scrubbing’ scandal. There are still companies offering services to clean up bad information by some dubious SEO work. But most experts say this isn’t possible. Search engines crawl, index and place information in so many places it’s not possible to delete a bad story once it gets out. Especially something has covered by the media, shared, and posted to several media channels. UC Davis reportedly paid two PR firms $175,000 for this magic eraser.
Is this a good thing that we cannot turn back the clock? It has given rise to a privacy right case known as the ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ right that the European Union fled against Google in 2012. It states that : “Individuals have the right – under certain conditions – to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them.” A good Fact Sheet is available here. There’s a longer discussion in Stanford Law Review, here.
I feel sorry for US Davis, because the story they tried to bury has given rise to hundreds more – giving the original piece that much more links. SEO companies often advice as much: Instead of trying to delete a story try to generate enough good information that will push down (not take down) the bad.
Oddly enough, while Google has complied, it accidentally revealed data about these requests.
Which brings me to social media literacy and privacy. We ought to be telling young people the ramifications of over sharing, being in pictures –group shots or selfies –that they might regret later.