Right to be forgotten: Swiss cheese internet, or database of ruin?

Imagine, 25 years ago, someone telling you: we really need to redress this massive social ignorance that, when you meet someone for the first time, you don’t know everything about them. What we ought to do is assemble a giant database. On everyone. Brilliant idea. But there are a couple of provisos, they add. This database will be sourced from whatever scraps of information are lying around about you – whether carefully crafted, or pulled from the streets. The product of your life’s work; or just some odd thing you once said or did, long ago, somewhere that the database decides to rank highly and eternally. The database will contain the most intimate, embarrassing, destructive things. But they will be mere flecks in a torrent of utility. And because of that: you have no rights or say over the database. Your entry – and that of everyone else who can’t afford a reputation manager – is subject to the whims of the untouchable logic of the machine, scraping the sticky, pocked underbelly of the web. Some would call that idea visionary. Others would call it nuts. But it’s what we’ve got. It’s called a search engine. Or, for most of us, in the monoculture of our digital universe: Google.

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