In my latest “Technologies of Freedom” column for Forbes, I take a closer look at the idea of an “Internet eraser button” as one method of protecting privacy or safeguarding reputation online. The child safety group Common Sense Media has suggested it is needed to help kids and others wipe out embarrassing facts we’ve place online but later come to regret. The Eraser Button idea is similar to “the right to be forgotten” proposal currently being hotly debated in Europe.
In my column, I argue that “it is unlikely that such a mechanism could be implemented, and even if it could, it would have troubling ramifications for freedom of speech, digital commerce, and Internet governance more generally.” I dwell a bit on the free speech issues and note that “What we are talking about here is the destruction of history, otherwise known as censorship. Few would have suggested that burning books was a smart way to protect privacy in the past. Is burning binary bits of information any wiser?” But the point seems moot in light of the significant enforcement challenges the notion faces, including the question: Who actually owns the data collected by online sites and services?