Does the Internet Need a ‘Delete’ Button? [You Told Us]

Dave Parrack 15-05-2013

Does the Internet Need a ‘Delete’ Button? [You Told Us] You Told UsThe Internet isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s far from it. For various reasons we may explore in a future We Ask You column, for every part of the Web we’re thankful for there is an annoyance we have to put up in order to be good netizens. The biggest of these is arguably the lack of privacy which is a truly unfortunate part of the way we share information about ourselves and others Online Privacy: Do You Share Too Much Information? Sharing has always been a prominent part of what the Internet is and how it functions. And with social networks exploding in popularity in the past several years, sharing is probably the one aspect we... Read More online for all the world to see.


However careful you may be about what you share on the Web, there is always a chance you’re leaking information. Websites collect data about you, which is then used to present you with relevant adverts. Social networks store updates and comments you make, any of which could come back to haunt you later in life. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Which is why we decided to ask you for your views on this issue.

The Results

We asked you, Does The Internet Need A ‘Delete’ Button? The question was prompted by comments made by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, who, while defending his company’s policies, declared we needed to have a debate about the lack of a ‘Delete’ button on the Internet now rather than later. The MakeUseOf readership delivered.

We received a healthy number of comments, and although this isn’t a discussion that can be neatly summed up in a few words, we can try to reach a consensus of sorts.

Does the Internet Need a ‘Delete’ Button? [You Told Us] internet delete key1

Most commenters accepted that while a ‘Delete’ button would be nice, it’s not feasible. The best we can ever hope for may be “something like a simple dashboard which shows all websites and services I am active on and lets me delete my identity and traces from selected web services,” as suggested by Harshit J. Even that may be wishful thinking.


A couple of people mentioned the usefulness of the Internet for future historians, who will need to see the data intact in order to make sense of how civilization looked at the start of the 21st century. But that wasn’t enough to convince people that we shouldn’t be the sole arbiters over the fate of our own personal data.

Comment Of The Week

We had great input from the likes of Rob H, BiG eViL, and Lisa Santika Onggrid, to name just a few. Comment Of The Week goes to dragonmouth, who receives the respect of myself and hopefully everybody reading this:

While it might be nice to have, it is much too late for a “Delete” button. Pandora’s box has been opened and cannot be closed. There are too many entities in possesion of our data to even contemplate its complete deletion. Besides, each and every entity will argue very strongly for their right/need to retain the data. By saying “there are times when erasure [of data] is the right thing … and there are times when it is inappropriate.” Mr.Schmidt is already positioning himself to argue Google case for retention of any data in their possession.
“How do we decide?”
WE don’t decide. The owner of the data decides. Mr. Schmidt and his employers DO NOT have a say in the matter. Unless they are following the maxim that possession is 9/10ths of the law.
” We have to have that debate now.”
There is no debate, there is no “WE”. If, as the owner of the data, I decide to expunge it from the Internet, not Mr.Schmidt, not his employers, not the government have any say in it. Privacy is like being pregnant, either you are or you’re not, either we have privacy or we don’t. There is no partial privacy just as there is no partial pregnancy.
Of course, in the real world everybody wants to know everything about everybody. Whether it is vital for business interests, as in the case of Google, Amazon, etc., or for “national interests” as is the case with governments, we will never be allowed to expunge traces of ourselves from the Internet.

We liked this comment because it strongly argues the case for why a ‘Delete’ button is improbable (likely impossible) at this stage of the game. It also addresses Schmidt’s points directly, cutting through the notion that he might be working on our behalf rather than on the behalf of his company.

We will be asking a new question tomorrow, so please join us then. We Ask You is a weekly column dedicated to finding out the opinions of MakeUseOf readers. We ask you a question and you tell us what you think. The question is open-ended and is usually open to debate. Some questions will be purely opinion-based, while others will see you sharing tips and advice, or advocating tools and apps for your fellow MakeUseOf readers. This column is nothing without your input, all of which is valued.


Image Credit: Matt McGee

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  1. Ali Khan
    May 16, 2013 at 5:34 am

    Lets not talk about something which is not possible. Not at all. With each day passing it is becoming integral part of our daily life and at times more addicted then television.

  2. BiG eViL.......
    May 15, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Dragonmouth has a very valid point here, couldn't agree more