Eric Schmidt Still A Fan Of Figuring Out A Way To Erase The Past

from the seems-more-likely-to-become-more-accepting dept

Back in 2010, we wrote about Google’s Eric Schmidt suggesting that in the future kids might change their names as they reach adulthood in order to disconnect their present-selves from their youthful indiscretions that were recorded permanently online. That seemed a bit silly to us at the time, but Schmidt is still focused on this basic concept apparently. His latest is the desire for some sort of delete button for the internet, again as a way to cover up some youthful indiscretions:

“In America, there’s a sense of fairness that’s culturally true for all of us,” Schmidt said. “The lack of a delete button on the Internet is a significant issue. There is a time when erasure is a right thing.”

Of course, this makes me wonder, what the hell did Eric Schmidt do as a kid that was so bad?

Yes, yes, we erase the criminal records of youthful offenders when they come of age, but I think this is something different. Trying to delete factual information from the internet is a quixotic task, unlikely to yield much that’s beneficial.

Perhaps instead of trying to delete the past, society as a whole will become a lot more accepting of the fact that kids do stupid things when they’re young. And many of them learn valuable lessons from those stupid things and they grow up to be better people. Plenty of folks have funny tales of their youthful indiscretions and, while these stories may be more difficult to embellish for effect if the details are all sitting on YouTube, does it really make more sense to try to delete that history or just to recognize that kids grow up and things they did as teenagers do not reflect how they’re likely to act as adults?

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Comments on “Eric Schmidt Still A Fan Of Figuring Out A Way To Erase The Past”

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Julian Perez (user link) says:

Re: Bilderberg

There’s nothing secretive about what is essentially a foreign policy organization. This is the most idiotic conspiracy theory of the fringe “Alex Jones” set (I’m not using his name for effect: he actually DOES believe in it). the Bilderberg Group

The Bilderberg Group tells us who they are, when and where they meet, what their purpose is, and in broad strokes what they discuss. Referring to it as some sort of secret society strains credibility. Their stated purpose obviously makes very good sense for people in their position. Which is more likely: They are what they say they are and what we’d expect them to be, or everything we see about them is an illusion and they’re actually running our lives and planning our destruction? Beware any conspiracy theory that claims to predict future events. Not one has ever been right.

Zakida Paul (profile) says:

“Perhaps instead of trying to delete the past, society as a whole will become a lot more accepting of the fact that kids do stupid things when they’re young.”

I would hope that intelligent people would be aware of this and take it into consideration. We have all done things that we are not proud of but those things make up who we are today. Every human being makes mistakes (that is just human nature), but it takes a truly remarkable human being to learn and grow from those mistakes.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“”Let’s forgive indiscretions of the past” says the guy who mentions the Boston Strangler in conjunction to Jack Valenti whenever the opportunity arises”

The deliberate public statements made by a mature adult in direct relation to his employment showing how clueless he was about his own industry are somewhat different to some dumb crap a teenager does that ends up online without his permission, don’t you think?

“I admire your optimism that people will do the right thing. We all live in a small town now where everyone knows what you did and what you’re doing.”

I believe the point of the article was “we can’t effectively erase things from the internet, so it’s down to society to accept that these things happen when people are young and adjust opinions accordingly”. Ultimately, everyone growing up in the fully online era is going to have things like this in their history. So, it’s in everyone’s best interests not to judge, say, a 30 year old based on something online from when he was 12. It might take a while, but that’s definitely a more achievable goal than erasing a person’s entire history from the internet.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m sure people would like to have a delete button on life too, but it isn’t going to happen. The internet is just part of life and people will be judged no matter what. Yes, it would be nice if they weren’t, but it’s not going to happen. This is one of those things where people think it’s different because it happens online.

Anonymous Coward says:

The public is not the government

It’s one thing for the government to expunge a person’s criminal record, but it’s quite another to bar the public from distributing information that was once legitimately published. The former gives youthful offenders a chance to rebuild their lives. The latter is just censorship.

GrrlGeek1972 (profile) says:

But in today's world, the consequences are total

When employers demand your Facebook and Twitter passwords to explore your private life, ANYTHING you’ve done when you were 12 can be a fatal bar to gainful employment. This is not government overreach. This is private corporations choosing to be arbitrary about their decisions. And there is no appeal.

This will be the first generation that grows to adulthood with nowhere to hide from their stupidity. Do we really want to make people who do stupid when they are 12 or 13 unemployable for life?

Note, by the way, that the well-off and well-connected will NOT have to suffer this fate. They do not get jobs by applying online. They get jobs through daddy’s friends, and the Yale buddies they went to school with. This is strictly an issue for the 99%.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: But in today's world, the consequences are total

That is an awfully simplistic view.

The reality is that right now, the upper management at major companies did not grow up with the technology nanny recording their every move. They never put a YouTube video up of them drinking with their buddies because there was no YouTube.

That will not always be the case. It is going to take a generation to move people into the top positions (possibly the well-connected, but that’s where they were going anyway) and they will likely understand this kind of stupidity and it will become less important.

The people that are complaining now are the ones that decided to act stupidly first. It is not an entire generation. I know plenty of 18 year old kids that have never posted something stupid on Facebook. If their early discretion and good judgement gives them a competitive edge – fantastic, that’s the way the world should work. The playing field should not be leveled too the lowest common denominator.

Anonymous Coward says:

Delete button is censorship

A delete button for the internet is censorship, because such a mechanism to be effective would have to dictate which information I can disseminate from my own server.

Professor Volokh has written an excellent paper about the free speech implication of a similar legal theory — namely the right nnot to be talked about.

But an even more problematic aspect of the argument for a delete button is its notion that anyone has any right to control republication of truthful information.

If John Doe had a criminal conviction in 1950,1980 or 2000 and it was mentioned in any public record or in any other way leaked to the public, tbanning republication is a clear free speech violation.

anon for now says:

Other motives?

Someone pointed out on another discussion of these remarks, that Schmidt also has been promoting forced identification of users online. If this were the law, then a company like Google would be in a position to delete (or just hide) info, but others who could not impose the strong authentication while collecting user data would be excluded. In this light the proposal appears as a backwards argument for the ID scheme and boosting Google’s power.

horse with no name says:


Here’s the problem: Can teenagers really consent legally to having all of this stuff online to start with? If we cannot carry forward crimes and such, why should we carry forward things we posted on facebook before our 18th birthdays?

Let’s say as an example you did something silly like dress in a costume for halloween that might be considered somewhat racists or sexist according to some future standard (blackface, anyone?). Is it really fair that this image might get drudged up during a job search 20 years later, costing you future employment?

We expect our kids to somehow have adult values and adult levels of intelligence, when honestly many of the adults online don’t seem to have it. Is it really realistic to keep all their stuff out there?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Teenagers

“Here’s the problem: Can teenagers really consent legally to having all of this stuff online to start with? If we cannot carry forward crimes and such, why should we carry forward things we posted on facebook before our 18th birthdays?”

Ah…but what we do post on the Internet can be public if we choose it to be. We can delete stupid Facebook posts and pictures at will. When someone with a juvenile record turns 18 in the US, that record is sealed from the court system’s use and cannot legally be used against that person in any way. What you did is sealed off.

Do you see the problem in what Schmidt is proposing as it entrusts web users not to lie about their ages, and websites to fully erase your personal data when you become an “adult”?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Teenagers

You can erase any data that is under your control, but getting the Internet to forget requires forcing other people to erase any data on you that they might have.
Why should I have to remove photos of a riotous party just because you want it forgotten while I don’t?

Anonymous Coward says:


Well, if teenagers can’t give consent, it must cut both ways. If they can’t be talked about on social networks, they should not be allowed there in the first place.

Consent is also limited.
If I participate in an interview, I have no right to withdraw my consent to the effect that everyone knowing of my action should have their archives deleted and being jailed or punished for speaking about me.

Gert-Jan says:

Intent versus implementation

I think there is a lot of good to say about the desire to have the history fade away and/or to have the option as a user to delete past events about that user.

The challenge is to transform this desire to workable procedures and laws. You don’t necessarily need a “right to be forgotten” for a basic implementation of this. However, you do need cooperation of commercial and noncommercial parties that collect or buy your information, with or without laws to facilitate it.

Without laws, you need alternative incentives for these commercial and noncommercial parties. Reputation (naming & shaming) can work for big brands.

Such initiative, even with big leaking holes and only covering (say) 70%, would be a big improvement over the current situation. It would also provide a learnings how to further improvement.

Hawki says:

To "delete" is an improper description

I’m reading through, and it only seems to me that Eric fails to understand the definition of “delete”. He is proposing people change their names separately, which is not a removal but a transposition. When you cast it into this light, it seems much more feasible, because you are delimiting identity and the only way to trace back is if you willingly yield your original name. Sure, people could go out and sniff that information up, but with a delimiting name structure, you could form a legal framework to disallow information prior from being taken into account for things such as jobs. Casting that information into irrelevance is by and far the ideal route when you consider the alternative. People do silly, crazy, and even stupid things as kids and young adults, but this shouldn’t bar them from participation in the world come their maturity.

Ninja (profile) says:

Perhaps instead of trying to delete the past, society as a whole will become a lot more accepting of the fact that kids do stupid things when they’re young.

You mean things like that?.

Or maybe the kid that shaped his pastry as a gun playing with his friend? Or the the episode where kids used pencils as imaginary swords and were punished? Or maybe the kids that made gun sounds while pretending their hands were the guns and got suspended?

We are actually walking in the opposite direction. I tell you, the only thing I’ll demand from my kids will be good grades and respect towards others. And that they play pranks, do stupid things and everything a kid should be doing. Lucky me I don’t live in the US. And double the lucky for my future children.

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