Al Gore or Mr. Cerf Real Father of the Internet?
Mr Cerf, often called the father of the internet (actually Al Gore says it was himself, not Cerf), said that the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ online was “not possible to achieve”. He told The Telegraph, “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.”
European regulators have yet to clarify precisely what their “right to be forgotten” would mean, but European Commissioner Viviane Reding has said that she expects it to give web users new controls over information, such as posts or pictures on social networks, that appears about them online. It raises the prospect of Facebook or Google, where Mr Cerf now works, being forced to ensure images or posts that an individual objects to are no longer accessible on the web.
Britain’s Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith recently told a seminar for lawyers that he had “difficulty in working out what the new rights are”, saying the right to be forgotten contained “an element of political gesturing”.
Mr Cerf warned “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.”
He added that “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.”
Mr Cerf said that implementing ill-thought out legislation risked encouraging “contempt for the law” among citizens.
Lawyers have raised the prospect of the European Commission turning Google and Facebook into “global internet policemen”, operating on pain of financial penalties totalling up to 2 per cent of their global turnover per offence. They said such companies would simply no longer be able to operate under such conditions.
Mr Cerf was speaking to The Daily Telegraph to mark the opening of the new Life Online Gallery at Bradford’s National Media Museum, which will look specifically at the impact of the web on life in Britain. He said that the gallery highlighted that the true impact of the internet had only just begun to be felt, and emphasised the importance of preserving and analysing the world’s digital evolution.
“I am very concerned we won’t understand the evolution of technology and its impact on society if we don’t try to record what’s going on,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of factual record, it’s analysis and insight into how things change as a result of technology.”
Mr Cerf added that without such museums, the phenomenon of ‘bitrot’, where new computers are unable to read what is on older machines, would “make the 20th century look very cloudy in the 22nd.”He said he hoped that new online services would be able to continue to emulate older machines.
In the future, Mr Cerf said that he thought new conventions for online behaviour would emerge. “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,” he claimed. “The question is what rules do we want to adopt in this online environment and I don’t think we know yet.”
He said he believed that the vast amount of information now online placed a duty on parents to encourage children in “the art of critical thinking, whether it’s about what they read on the web, in books or see on television”.
By Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor
1:00PM BST 29 Mar 2012