In 2009, Mayer-Schönberger published a book entitled “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.” In it, he asserts that the European postwar, post-Wall concerns about privacy are even more relevant with the advent of the Internet. The Stasi kept its records on paper and film in file cabinets; the material was difficult to locate and retrieve. But digitization and cheap online storage make it easier to remember than to forget, shifting our ‘behavioral default,’ Mayer-Schönberger explained. Storage in the Cloud has made information even more durable and retrievable.
Mayer-Schönberger said that Google, whose market share for Internet searches in Europe is around ninety per cent, does not make sinister use of the information at its disposal. But in “Delete” he describes how, in the nineteen-thirties, the Dutch government maintained a comprehensive population registry, which included the name, address, and religion of every citizen. At the time, he writes, ‘the registry was hailed as facilitating government administration and improving welfare planning.’ But when the Nazis invaded Holland they used the registry to track down Jews and Gypsies. ‘We may feel safe living in democratic republics, but so did the Dutch,’ he said. ‘We do not know what the future holds in store for us, and whether future governments will honor the trust we put in them to protect information privacy rights.’
'Somewhere between sixty and a hundred million people in the United States have criminal records, and that’s just counting actual convictions,' Sharon Dietrich, the litigation director of Community Legal Services, in Philadelphia, told me. 'The consequences of having a criminal record are onerous and getting worse all the time, because of the Web.' Dietrich and others have joined in what has become known as the expungement movement, which calls for many criminal convictions to be sealed or set aside after a given period of time. Around thirty states currently allow some version of expungement. Dietrich and her allies have focussed on trying to cleanse records from the databases maintained by commercial background-check companies. But Google would remain a problem even if the law were changed. 'Back in the day, criminal records kind of faded away over time,' Dietrich said. 'They existed, but you couldn’t find them. Nothing fades away anymore. I have a client who says he has a harder time finding a job now than he did when he got out of jail, thirty years ago.'"