CSO Online: Why your online identity can never really be erased

ATN-300InsightaaS: CSO Online is the digital home for security content generated by IDG, focusing on “information security, physical security, business continuity, identity and access management, loss prevention and more.” This post falls somewhere between identity management and “more.” It starts with a discussion of the EU court ruling demanding that Google provide citizens with “the right to be forgotten;” the decision (which was highlighted in Across the Net on May 23) was generally applauded by privacy advocates, and by individuals worried about the net’s intrusioin into their future lives. In this piece, CSO Online takes a closer look at the issue. It starts by posing thoughts/questions that seem easy enough to address: “”Who speaks for the researchers who are looking for that information?” (no one – this is about individual rights); “what if a story about a certain individual is important…[for example, if the person becomes] the president or prime minister?” (they’ll be thankful their privacy was protected); “is it right that search engine companies themselves make the determination regarding what should and shouldn’t be hidden from search?” (no). Then, however, CSO asks a much thornier question – in the internet, is it even possible to deliver the right to be forgotten? The article states that “a British House of Lords committee had declared that the EU court’s ruling on the right to be forgotten is unworkable.” There are steps that can be taken to help protect online privacy, and the article lists a number of them. However, in the end, it concludes that discretion is the better part of online identity management, quoting former While House CIO Theresa Payton as saying “Abide by the ‘Grandma Rule’ and the ‘Bad-Guy Rule.’ Ask yourself, ‘Would I be embarrassed if Grandma saw this post?'”¨ And, ‘If a bad guy saw this, could he hurt me or my loved ones?’ If yes, leave it offline.”

One seemingly unshakeable truth about the online world since it began is this: The Internet never forgets. Once you post anything online, it is recoverable forever — the claims of former IRS official Lois Lerner about “lost” emails notwithstanding. Even promises of photos disappearing after a few seconds have been shown to be bogus.

But that doesn’t mean people won’t try to erase the Internet’s memory. The latest effort comes from the Court of Justice of the European Union, which ruled in May that EU citizens have the “right to be forgotten,” meaning that they can ask search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing to remove links to their names that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.”

Good luck with that. For starters, the ruling doesn’t mean the information has been eliminated from the Web entirely — just that it will be harder to find, since it won’t show up as a link on search engine.

But beyond that, critics contend that not only is the ruling unenforceable, it’s also already having unintended consequences…

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