The Internet May Want to Forget, But Maybe It Just Cannot!

The current ongoing great debate is whether the internet does really forget and if not, why?

Some of the commonly asked questions include:

  1. Who stores the data (photo or post) one uploads on a social media platform or website?
  2. What if they decide to delete it, is the ‘storer’ obligated to delete it too?
  3. What legal mechanisms can one follow to have information put up about them pulled down?
  4. Does it really ever go away?

What Happens to the photo or information one posts on any online platform?

Once one uploads any information to a social media platform or a website, it is given an index. The index given uniquely identifies a phrase or a photo making it easy for search engines to detect it once a query (search) for the term or image is posed. For example, if you write a post about former US president Obama, the word Obama has definitely been indexed before, and depending on how influential your post is online, once I search Obama, among other responses, your post will be among the once listed.

The post or image will not only be stored by the specific site you have posted it too, but also search engines such as google and Bing will pick it up. This is because the websites are linked or even hosted by the search engines.

So what if one wants to delete a post/photo

The request to delete information posted online is normally submitted to the site in which one posted the information in the first place. For example, a Facebook post will take between 30 to 90 days (according to its policy) to be removed from the Facebook database.

The catch comes with the interlinked sites. Facebook cannot delete the post which was shared on twitter or that google picked up. Therefore, your request to delete would have been honored by the initial hosting site, but the post will still be out there either; as a post in a group or in another site where the information was shared by one of your many friends/followers.

What legal mechanisms can one follow to have information put up about them pulled down?

The first step would be to delete the information from your platform such as social media site or website. This should suffice most of the time and does not take much hustle. The time it takes to be wiped out from the company database is subject to their policy so it is important to read the terms of agreement to know this.

If the post is by someone else, one could start by reporting it to the social media platform (all platforms have the ‘report’ option). If you know the person who posted the information and want to report abuse, defamation or any other malice arising from the post, you can go a step further and report to the local authorities to commence a legal action against the individual.

The second and more complex step would be requesting for de-indexing from search engine. This is more complex in that it has to be legally allowed in one’s country of residence. Most countries have not legalized de-indexing which is commonly known as the right to be forgotten arguing that it goes against the right to freedom of access to information. I know you could be wondering so what if the information posted about you is a lie or no longer relevant, shouldn’t de-indexing be allowed? Unfortunately, google for example, will only look into a de-indexing request if only the post falls under one of the below categories:

  1. Copyright infringement
  2. Child abuse images
  3. Social security numbers
  4. Bank account numbers
  5. Credit card numbers
  6. Signature images
  7. Sexually explicit imagery that has been posted without consent

That is why only if the data laws in one’s country explicitly provides for the right to be forgotten could a search engine be compelled to remove any other information that is not under the above category. The threshold is still high, but with such a law, there are higher chances of succeeding.

In Kenya, the current Data and Protection Bill 2018 provides for the right to be forgotten through deletion of data that is no longer relevant or is incorrect. As of now, the Bill is not yet law and therefore is not legally binding. The European Union General Data Protection regulations also provide for the right to be forgotten for EU member states (https://gdpr-info.eu/issues/right-to-be-forgotten/ ). India is also another country that is in the process of passing its data protection bill that will see to the right to be forgotten.

Does it really ever go away?

I would say no, not really. Why? Because the internet is made up of millions of interlinked computers with millions of interlinked sites. It could be hard to figure out every site and every search engine that has the information you shared. Imagine when you tagged a friend and they shared it on another platform and you did not even know about, or someone downloaded the photo and posted it up a fresh on another platform you may not even be signed up in. The possibilities are limitless…

Food for thought– Remember a de-indexing request is made to a specific search engine, so will you issue a request to all search engines in the world to try find and de-index your information? Or even a delete request to all social media platforms? What about the ones you are not a member of?

The Internet may want to forget, but maybe it just cannot!

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