Thinking out loud

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The "Right to Destroy Information" act

We heard a lot about “The Wayback Machine” recently. For the uninitiated, the wayback machine is a website that archives the internet; and not once or twice, but several times over, every so often. The Wayback Machine has around 6 copies of my homepage with the first copy being the half-built version of my very first. Another version still sports all the photographs I once had on my page but have since removed. I’m shocked, to say the least.

Just a few days ago I had written about how we find it extremely hard to hit the delete button. Now it turns out that even if I do hit the delete button on anything I put on the internet, its still useless. The undo button is still around and it can undo deletions that took place many many years ago. Why? This personal paranoia about losing information has reached epic proportions. We as a race so strongly fear the “loss of history” that we are taking repeated snapshots of the “world” every few days (months?). What purpose does it serve to store semi-complete homepages of individuals who are blissfully unaware that what they put up on the net may probably be around for eternity to see (atleast if the Wayback machine has its way). Its as if the saying “what’s done cannot be undone” has caught up with the internet; only not completely. We can undo deletions but apparently there is no way to undo creation.

Perhaps intellectual property rights should now be augmented with a new clause – the right to destroy information. This would mean that an individual or an organization should be allowed to destroy information that they created (unless they transferred the rights to someone else in which case the new owner would have the right to destroy the information). There would ofcourse be the problem of determining the rightful ownership of the content but then this problem also exists for the copyright act.

Is it really important that we preserve every aspect of the world we live in today? May it not be better to let certain information be destroyed so that it does not stifle the creativity of the generations to come? Does having lots of storage capacity justify us holding on to the past? We need to figure out.


  • The whole point to archive information is to look back, and analyze what we have done in the past. When I go back to my own old homepage, what I see is not old information of a random person that should be deleted, but the changes that have affected my life in the past 2 years, and their effect on the look and the content of my homepage. Similarly, when you become famous, you can imagine your fans looking back at your old snaps, and going ga-ga over how cute it is ! ;)

    You can also use old archives to learn how the UI of websites has changed over the past few years (trust me - its fun!), or check out old outdated claims on websites(again, loads of fun).

    Maybe individuals should be made aware about the fact that everything that they put on the web will be there forever ! But then again, if they don't mind putting it up in public in the first place.....

    By Blogger Bridget Jones, at 8:25 AM  

  • I am not sure how Sergey Brin must have reacted when he saw this (his) photograph splased on websites recently. This is a photograph that someone dug up (I think from the Wayback machine) which had a copy of Sergey's homepage during his Stanford days.

    The point is that I should be able to make a conscious choice about what I want to keep around and what I want to delete. Atleast there should be some mechanism where I can convince archival sites like the WayBack machine to delete archives of my previous homepages.

    Consider this: If someone writes something libelous on his blog and then the accused party asks him to remove that content from his blog. In the meanwhile, the Wayback machine has already archived this page and is now available for everyone to see even though the writer and the accused are against any more public display of this information...

    P.S. - Why are you called Bridget Jones?

    By Blogger Parijat, at 8:40 AM  

  • I'm against your idea. People and companies are already too good at destroying evidence of their crimes. Of course wayback machine doesn't contain them much often, but you didn't limit scope of your proposal to it ...

    By Anonymous hkmaly, at 11:40 PM  

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