Google's Schmidt: The future of online tracking, the need for a delete button

Let's all make it easier on ourselves and change our names when we reach 18 years of age, shall we?

eric-schmidt-internet delete button privacy

"The lack of a delete button on the Internet is a significant issue. There is a time when erasure is a right thing."

These are the words of Eric Schmidt, Google's Executive Chairman, and they are likely to resonate with many of us.

The Internet is an incredible thing. It has resulted in the sharing of information, technological expansion, the creation of completely new industries and allows us to better communicate with our peers. However, with such connectivity -- coupled with our new-found obsession with mobile gadgets -- there is also responsibility.

As reported by sister site CNET, while discussing a new book written by Schmidt and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, the Google exec used the example of a crime committed as a minor -- wiped from official records but still found online, which prevented someone from securing a job.

In the eyes of Schmidt, the Internet -- while a powerful tool -- may end up hampering the "sense of fairness that's culturally true for all of us" in the United States.

When Facebook first introduced the Timeline feature, there was a mad rush to delete and remove posts, status updates and photos that were suddenly being thrown out of the closet, thought long forgotten. I doubt I was the only one to cringe at a ridiculous update or online conversation conducted years ago -- just as the case of Paris Brown represents. As Britain's first youth police and crime commissioner, Brown was meant to be providing a young person's perspective on policing, but the 17-year old became embroiled in an investigation over tweets she had sent between the ages of 14 and 16.

These tweets were considered "homophobic, racist and violent," and although prosecution did not go ahead, Brown decided not to take up the paid role -- and the media exposure is likely to impact her future career.

There is a lesson for all of us here when it comes down to our digital footprint. During an event at New York University in Manhattan, Schmidt told attendees that while mistakes made when young can eventually be wiped from an adult's record, copies and records of incidents can still be found online -- in the same way that we can be profiled based on social media activity, photos and comments.

Generation Y have been the first exposed fully to the concept of protecting your digital footprint -- as best you can. As they grew up and explored the Internet, digital citizenship has been discussed, social media networks have exploded, and more than a few of the 18-30's generation change their surname on Facebook to avoid being discovered by employers checking up on interview applicants.

"I propose that at the age of 18, you should, just as a policy, change your name. Then you can say, 'That really wasn't me; I really didn't do that!" Schmidt said at the conference. The comment may have been pithy, but it rings true for the privacy issues and company data mining that we all have to now keep in mind.

Whether it is the emerging technology Google Glass represents or the high interaction levels offered by social media networks, government or company tracking is only one side of the coin -- we also have a responsibility to manage our own digital footprints, and make sure the next generation are informed enough to do the same.

The future may include wearable gadgets and potentially even embedded ones, but as Schmidt noted, levels of tracking may eventually reach an unbreakable ceiling -- unless kept heavily under wraps. "Ultimately, in a competitive market, companies want the consumers to be happy. A situation where you go to people and say, 'Oh, here's our phone, and we're going to track you to death,' people are not going to buy that phone. It's just a bad business model."


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