Google's Internet Evangelist is out and about overseas, extolling the virtues of European Internet regulation, if, by "extolling," I mean trashing it for being impractical. Cerf's comments, while being applied to the EU's proposed "right to be forgotten" proposal that's the talk of the Union.
From my brief exposure to the concept, the "ePrivacy," something software giant Adobe discusses at length, the "right to be forgotten" has to do with the removal of content for placation purposes. Apparently, reputation control is serious business is Europe. The Telegraph offers this brief description:
The current European proposals seek to harmonise laws across the 27 EU nations and will force sites to delete information shortly after consumers request it be removed. If they do not comply, a fine of up to two per cent of a firm’s global turnover could follow.
The EU commissioner, Viviane Reding, defended the proposal's goals:
“The right to be forgotten has nothing to do with journalists, nothing to do with the work of bloggers, nothing to do with tweeters – it’s about when you entrust information to a company. Because freedom of expression is very important we have also to take this into account.”
From Reding's perspective, the measure would give European web users control of the content associated with them. For example, remember that drunk picture you took last year of you and your friends in various states of intoxication? Under the EU's proposal, you'd have a modicum of control over this content, even if it's been broadcast beyond the standard social media platforms. In other words, let's say the drunk picture in question went viral. Under EU's proposal, you'd essentially be able to put that particular genie back in the bottle by having web properties remove the offending image(s).
Because of that, it's easy to see why Cerf is opposed to such measures. Cerf, while speaking with the Telegraph, offered his--and Google's--position on this matter, and it's safe to say he disagrees:
“You can’t go out and remove content from everybody’s computer just because you want the world to forget about something. I don’t think it’s a practical proposition at all... It’s very, very hard to get the internet to forget things that you don’t want it to remember because it’s easy to download and copy and reupload files again later.”
It's clear Cerf is speaking for Google as well as himself, and he didn't stop there either:
“The analogue [equivalent of this digital idea] is terrifying; if somebody said ‘I want everyone to forget about this book that I published because it’s embarrassing’, how would you implement that? You would have to break in to people’s homes and take the book off the bookshelves. There’s some legal issues with that and it seems to me that it shouldn’t be any easier in the online world."
What Cerf expects is a little bit of personal responsibility instead of expecting the Googles and Facebooks of the world to save you from yourself:
“People who take pictures and post them on the net might want to think twice, because someone might take a picture of them in a compromising situation too. The question is what rules do we want to adopt in this online environment and I don’t think we know yet.”
Personal responsibility in today's world? Perish the thought.