If you Google my name, many of the results appear because I specifically allowed them to be on the internet—whether it’s an interview or the embarrassing poem I wrote when I was twelve—but some of it is there without my explicit permission or is no longer relevant to my life. Of course, privacy settings on social networks such as Facebook allow some of the things I don’t wish to show up in search results onto Google’s radar, but the fact remains that once something’s on the internet, it’s on the internet for good (with a few exceptions).
This begs the question: how come we can opt in but not opt out? It seems strange to want to take down information in an SEO-focused age, where we often compete to be the front and center of search results, but a businesses’ internet presence often has a different purpose than an individual’s internet presence.
It is often incredibly difficult to get information about a person taken down. For example, there have been many cases of (mostly) women’s personal photos being posted without permission to x-rated sites. This is problematic not only because these photos are on the internet without their consent, but because they are often linked to the women’s personal information, negatively impacting their internet presence, not to mention future opportunities. It is notoriously difficult to force a website to take down these photos, even after legal action, and the photos might just be posted again elsewhere. Of course, this is an example of a worst-case scenario, whereas most people’s information might be more innocuous.
Because of data mining, any actions you take online might influence how ads target you, or what information companies have about you. This isn’t always as scary as it sounds, but it is annoying, because aside from just never using the internet (not a reality, really), there aren’t too many ways to stop this.
This blog isn’t meant to be a scaremongering post, as most people will never have to deal with negative repercussions of information that’s stuck online. In fact, I have a theory that as the internet becomes more ubiquitous in everyone’s lives, the information that’s there will become less important, due to the vast information overflow. Of course, this is just a supposition, but maybe we will come to realize that it’s better to evaluate people not with a heavy hand, but with a light one.
As for businesses, keep on keeping on, so to speak. Bad, inaccurate, or poor information about you might be out there, but honesty in your online policies and a great marketing plan will drown out anything you may not want online. Opt in as much as possible, and don’t focus too much on the inability to opt out.