Why are we abdicating responsibility online?

Woodrow Wilson, One of Leakey’s Local Characters, in His Pickup. He Never Works, But Sits Staring at the River from 7 A.M until Sunset 06/1972

Last week’s European Court of Justice ruling that Google must remove search result listings that EU citizens require it to remove (subject to their requests passing a test the court proposed) touched on a trend I’ve become increasingly concerned about: our collective reluctance to take direct responsibility for what we share online and where we share it and our insistence that online services be held accountable for what we ultimately endorsed when we shared our data with them. We need to decide what world we live in. Do we live in a world where we are willing to take responsibility for our activities and make deliberate and empowered choices in the process or are we happy to surrender our autonomy to institutions and expect them to make decisions for us? We seem to be collectively opting for the second option and I wrote about this in my most recent column on htxt.africa titled “EU search results censorship is about our irresponsibility with data, not Google’s“. Here is a preview:

Last week’s European Court of Justice ruling that a Spanish citizen (and, by extension, all European Union citizens) could require Google to remove search results pointing to content about that person was not the “clear victory” for online privacy protection. Quite the opposite.

For the most part we rush to submit as much information about us as we can because we want to use these services without much thought about the implications for us down the line. Then, when we feel that our trust has been betrayed, we are outraged and the object of our frustration changes something and we fall back asleep. We find ourselves in this position where vast multinational companies have tremendous amounts of information about us because we gave it to them with our blessing, thanks even. Instead, perhaps we should consider whether handing over so much really serves us? Do we really need to disclose so much? Should we not insist on other ways to share that don’t leave us exposed?


  1. Nathan Jeffery avatar

    I am a data geek, I don’t believe in DELETE… what happens on the internet, should stay on the internet – forever. You don’t get to take back what you say in public and you don’t get to rewrite history offline – you should not be allowed to do it online either.

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