At my first parent evening of the new school year, my son’s 5th grade teacher stated her desire to post photos of the kids on her password-protected website. She was met with emphatic opposition from a number of parents and I’m pretty sure none of the parental opponents were American. The opposition was so strident that the teacher chose to move on…”next topic!”….rather than discuss moving forward with some sort of informed consent policy.
Whether they are still haunted by a past when citizens rabidly spied on each other, or are reacting to all of the recent hacking and spying scandals, Germans have good reason to be suspicious of any invasion of their privacy. But how effective are their efforts to protect themselves? Although you can’t see my apartment building on Google Street View, I can still post a picture of it online (I decided to omit the address though).
As a result of an EU court ruling, Google is now legally required to remove links to outdated personal information about users upon request. German requests are coming in by the thousands, but will Google’s removal of these links (on European search engines) guarantee erasure from cyberspace? Can we put up a Do Not Disturb sign and expect to keep the world at bay? We do need policies to protect our privacy, but Europe’s battle to tame Google must contend with the public’s insatiable thirst for information. Our fear of Google shouldn’t lead us to make too many compromises of our “right to know” and our freedom of expression.
Although I will be online every day of the school year, I probably won’t have the chance to look at pictures of my son with his class. I’ll miss having that window into his time at school, but in this case I’ve decided not to resist the German preference for privacy.