Once on the ‘Net, Always on the ‘Net

While working on a website recently, I was given an article to post containing a quote with the person’s name. Normally, you would think, this wouldn’t be a problem. But given the context and the fact that I wasn’t given any addition information, I removed the name. Later, the author contacted me, asking why I had removed the name. I explained briefly that once published on the website, it would be out on the Internet, for all intents and purposes, forever, and that for certain things, we needed the permission of the person or persons being named, with their acknowledgment that they understood the implications. The author talked to me later, asking for a longer explanation, not quite understanding what I was getting at.

The point is this: once set free on the ‘net, it’s out there for anyone to find, at any time in the future. Case in point: I listen to a number of podcasts, and a new one recently talked about a song that was released on the artist’s website for free. What I didn’t realize was that I was listening to this podcast some time after it was released, and they failed to mention that the song would only be available for a short time. When I went to the site, the song was no longer available (in fact, there was no trace of it at all). A quick Google search for the song title led me to a blog that had the link to the original mp3 file on the artist’s site (which generated a 404 – not found – error). A Firefox plugin called “Digger” gives me a context menu with an option to “find page in the Internet Archive”, and a click on that gave me a link to the mp3, which I downloaded and now have.

Things you say (or are quoted as saying, and in certain contexts), or things you publish, even if you intended it to be temporary, on the ‘net, are usually still accessible. In the case of an audio file, it means continuing to give your content away for free. In the case of things directly tied to you: thoughts or opinions, well, consider the implications of, for example, a future employer doing a quick online search for your name before an interview.

(As a disclaimer, the posting of the article mentioned at the start was in no way detrimental to the person being quoted, but having been given no indication that they had given consent to be published, I had decided to err on the side of caution. It turned out to be good for starting a discussion.)