An ancient video of you just popped up on Facebook — one you thought you'd deleted years ago. You're smearing your face with chocolate pudding, drinking shots, and yelling "Santorum!" Now you want a job as a White House aide. What can you do? Wealthy people pay SEO companies to fix their online reputations. But what should ordinary people do when Facebook accidentally republishes embarrassing pictures you deleted years ago (as they did in a recent scandal)? Or when Google launches Buzz and reveals your main email contacts to everybody?
Over at Slate, internet pundit Evgeny Morozov (author of the excellent book The Net Delusion), says we need to fix this problem now. And he's got a weird solution: reputation insurance.
This scheme has many advantages. First of all, it doesn't mess with how the Internet works. There is no need to eliminate online anonymity or create a sophisticated censorship infrastructure demanded by "the right to be forgotten." Second, it gives the victims of information tsunamis at least a semblance of proper compensation. No more vague promises of "It won't happen again"; victims will actually receive hard cash. Third, it levels the playing field for online reputation services and promotes the ideal of equality: Now it's not just the rich who can pay thousands of dollars to have their online reputations fixed.
Morozov is careful to explain that people would need to prove that they'd suffered financial damages from these "information tsunamis."
I love this idea because it appeals to my urge to make Facebook, Google, and all the other personal data behemoths pay for all the ways they screw their users over. However, Morozov calls his insurance scheme a way of creating an "information welfare state," which goes way beyond Web 2.0 revenge fantasies. Given how rapacious and corrupt the insurance industry is, "welfare" is sort of the opposite of what you'd imagine most insurance companies doing. Still, Morozov has the beginnings of a great idea here. When your reputation is fucked online, make the companies that fucked you pay for it.
Before making a snarky comment, you really should read Morozov's whole essay via Slate.