Living with Technology / What does the Internet say about you?
The Internet has a long memory.
So what happens if the information on the Internet -- about you -- is wrong?
I tell my children and others to be very careful about what they do and say on the Internet. A seemingly casual comment may offend or hurt someone else. An intentionally harmful comment can have serious repercussions.
A recent decision by a European court to require Google to remove specific information when requested by people is providing additional fuel to the fire to help people manage their "online reputation."
The real challenge comes down to: How much control do people have about information about themselves online? An awful lot of information is generally available about people, including their home address (it's in the phone book or their current digital replacements), contact information, how much you paid for your home, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, whether you've been arrested, are party in a legal dispute or had a judgment against you.
A lot of it is public record; anyone -- including the media -- can get the information at town hall or at courthouses.
Then there's what you say about yourself (Facebook, Twitter, quotes in newspapers, etc.) or what others say about you (same sources).
It's actually pretty easy to find out what people say about you. I suggest that people regularly type their names into their favorite search engines, --such as Google, Bing or similar engines -- and see what comes up.
But what should you do if there's incorrect or undesirable information about you online?
There's not a single source that you can go to in order to request that the undesirable information be corrected or removed. No one "owns" the Internet.
Much of the information that appears in search engines such as Google and Bing are "mined" from other sources, typically by software that scours other Web sites and makes it available. As such, many search engines say they don't own the information, they just present what others have published.
In the case of someone's personal website, blog, or other digital forum, a First Amendment right gives people pretty wide latitude about what they can say.
In the case in Europe, the information about the person was accurate but had been addressed, and he didn't feel it was appropriate to have the information in the public anymore. The court agreed with him.
While we have good laws about what people can say about each other, the Internet continues to provide us with challenges that we haven't considered, much less resolved, before. What can and should be published about people will remain a challenge for us for years to come.
In the meantime, be sure to watch what you post. The Internet has a long memory.
Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years. His "Living With Technology" appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org