Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » How much control should you have over your Web profile? Part II


Microfilm copies of the Victoria Advocate dating back to 1846 are digitized online by Google. Only Google engineers know the secret to how these millions of bits of data end up ranked in a search result.

A professor is searching for what he considers justice from the Victoria Advocate and Google. As I wrote in my previous post, the professor appeared recently before our ethics board to ask us to remove a two-decade-old story about his arrest, now expunged from court records.

Our board members continue to research the questions raised by his request. First, we want to know Google's position on such a request. While this case is a first for us, we assume it's not for the Internet juggernaut. We also want to check with the newspaper where most of this reporting originated. That paper's reporting about the case also has started appearing on Google.

Meanwhile, we want to consult other experts as we consider the guiding principles of the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable.

Some of the questions our board discussed:

-- How is truth best served in this case? Although the professor was cleared, the fact remains he was arrested.

-- How do we minimize harm? The professor argues he doesn't want us to remove the story from our archives. Rather, he wants to somehow make it less accessible in a Web search. Even if that is possible, should we?

-- If we grant this request, how will we handle future ones? How do we explain our position to our readers?

You can see why we're moving slowly and want to hear from you. The questions are larger than us. Ultimately, the courts likely will have a lot to say about how such issues are resolved. The explosion of digital access raises privacy issues never before considered.

At the heart of it all is this question: How much control should you have over your Web profile?