I had a interesting telephone call today from a woman I knew more than 10 years ago. She was the subject of a post I wrote on the site last spring: I had interviewed her for a radio piece back then, and I posted the audio of that interview along with my reflections.
She had recently “Googled” herself, and found that said post was the first search result for her name. While originally intrigued, she later found that others — friends, colleagues — had also Googled her name, found the same post, and were alternatively bemused and concerned by the content, in part because they thought it was a contemporary interview, not one conducted 10 years ago.
She called me to ask me to remove the post and the audio, and I complied, reasoning that since (a) I hadn’t originally asked her permission to post the audio, that (b) it was causing her some grief, and that (c) I consider her to own her own words, it was the Right Thing to Do.
At the same time, I cautioned her that once something is on the web, it’s difficult to completely retract: Google will cache it, other sites may archive it. And so on.
I mention this by way of notifying the readership of the absense of the item previously found here, and also to prompt some discussion about the greater issues at play here.
For example, who owns a radio interview? If I was interviewed on the CBC this morning, and they decided to replay my interview in 10 years, would they respond to a request from me to not do so?
Or, let’s say I write a masters thesis, and take a point of view that, 5 years later, I have denounced, and I want to remove my thesis from the university library? Should I be able to?
Or, is it okay to simply write about people without their permission, considering that doing so will effect how they’re seen by the rest of the world (friends, family, potential employers, legal adversaries, etc.) through the eyes of Google. My experience is that if I write about someone at all on this website, if they are not otherwise engaged in Internet work, they’ll likely appear high up on the Google search results for their name. Do we need new rules to deal with the power that this affords me?
Or, if I decided that I wanted to go and get a job with Aliant, and decided to improve my chances by removing all of the posts here that have been critical of that company, is that okay? Do I have any obligation to anyone to not do that?
I’d be interested in others’ thoughts.