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To Google is to find yourself, warts and all

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You have to love Google. Or at least respect it; not many businesses have so quickly gone from a noun to a verb as this company, which created an Internet search engine that quickly buried its competition. To Google is to search the vast resources of the Internet, and to be Googled is to run the risk of having your life peeled open and exposed to the world.

Indeed, if you are mentioned online, almost anywhere, there is a supreme chance that Google — and now other search engines such as Bing — have found and stored that mention. Try running your own name through a Google search — Google yourself, as the saying goes — and you may be shocked to see what is stored there.

If you do a Google search on Perry White, be prepared to be buried by Superman references — Perry White, Superman’s editor, shows up in hundreds of thousands if not millions of Internet references, and to get to me, you’ll have to narrow your search by a lot. Perry White & editor, for example, doesn’t narrow the search hardly at all, since the fictional Perry White was also an editor, albeit of a major metropolitan daily newspaper. In fact, even though my name and face appears online quite a lot, a simple search has a better chance of finding your name typed into a search engine than it has mine.

Especially if your name has appeared in an online publication, like the Watertown Daily Times. Show up in an online publication’s pages, and I promise you a search will eventually find you.

And a lot of people are discovering that, much to their own consternation. We regularly field requests from people who have been arrested or ticketed for some greater or lesser crime, asking us to “Take down that old story about my DWI.”

Our standard response is twofold: first, was the report accurate? If it was, even if we could remove it from the great, grasping Google algorithm, we wouldn’t do it. Second, when was it on the Watertown Daily Times website? We only have, with very limited exceptions, tiny influence on pages from the Watertown Daily Times that have been cached by search engines. We have complete control over our website, but we only keep our news items up for seven days before purging them. And If you want us to remove an item that is true — if you actually received that DWI charge, or were charged with stealing from Walmart, or were ticketed for that nasty three-car accident on I-81 — well, it just isn’t going to happen. Don’t bother even trying.

The Times treats its daily product as both an important news product and a valuable historical archive of the north country. Once we publish something, the only way that gets changed is if we are wrong. Thus, if our report is factually accurate, don’t expect us to bury it. If it is not factually accurate, we will correct it, both online and in print. But we’ll only correct the elements that were wrong. Thus, it would be very rare indeed that we removed an entire report from the website. And no report will ever be removed from our archives; a corrected version will abide there as long as our archive exists — we hope forever.

Here is an excellent tip for people who don’t want to have “negative” articles stored online in Google’s or Bing’s incredibly far-reaching memories: don’t do something that results in a “negative” article. Don’t drive drunk, don’t hit your significant other, don’t abuse children or animals, don’t steal or assault or kill. An arrest record has always been a dicey thing to rid oneself of, but it now is nearly impossible. The Internet never forgets.

People rightfully lament the loss of privacy in the digital age. I feel very sorry for those people who have, through absolutely no fault of their own, lost their desired anonymity because of the Internet. But never has the phrase “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” had a more important or longer lasting meaning than it does today. Caveat emptor.

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