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Why it’s okay for the Internet to “forget” some crimes

January 25, 2021, 2:34 PM UTC

If you GoogleAaron Pressman arrested,” the results are pretty boring, mainly stories that I have written as a reporter about some crime or other, although one of those enticing data broker web sites promises someone with my name and about my age from Spring Valley, New York, “DOES have Court, Arrest or Criminal Records.” It’s not me. Maybe more importantly, if you click over to look at the image search results, there are no mug shots.

Google does not know all. I’m not the guy in Spring Valley, but I did manage to get in some trouble in the summer of 1994 when I was invited to a small wedding in a ski resort town north of Toronto. Bunking with the groom’s party of young men I did not know, we embarked on an evening walk the night before the main event. This walk led us across some of the ski trails, where one of the young men who had been drinking heavily, the best man, in fact, decided to climb a pole supporting the ski lift and then traverse the wire to the next pole, hand over hand. He didn’t succeed.

Thanks to some quick work by the local first responders and a medivac to Toronto, the young man survived. The rest of us? We were all arrested for trespassing. In a very blurry memory, I told a sergeant or maybe a magistrate that I was visiting from New York City and could not return for a court date some weeks hence. My offense was downgraded to “entering premises when entry prohibited” and I was fined $58.75 Canadian dollars. And since the best man had to be replaced, I was also bumped up to be in the wedding party. First and last time wearing a kilt.

The memories came rushing back to me last week when the Boston Globe announced a new initiative called “Fresh Start.” Under the program, anyone can apply to have previously published information about them updated, downgraded from search, or removed altogether. It’s a more limited (and more journalism-appropriate) version of Europe’s right to be forgotten. A committee set up by the paper will review all requests, setting “an especially high bar” for making changes about public figures or serious crimes.

“It was never our intent to have a short and relatively inconsequential Globe story affect the futures of the ordinary people who might be the subjects,” Globe editor Brian McGrory explains. “Our sense, given the criminal justice system, is that this has had a disproportionate impact on people of color. The idea behind the program is to start addressing it.”

The move, modeled after a two-year-old program by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was quickly welcomed by some as long overdue and attacked by others as Orwellian censorship of history.

The Globe says that its effort starts as an experiment. While the idea is to correct for possible racial bias in the past operations of the criminal justice system and subsequent news reporting, it is yet to be seen if the program will achieve that goal.

But it’s also not Orwellian to recognize that the Internet—and the operations and decisions of a search giant—can hurt people in ways that are unfair, unjust, and unnecessary.

As to my own minor misadventure north of the border, I guess it’s going to show up in search engines from now on.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Why aren't more people talking about this. It may not be a match made in heaven, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk tells Fortune that he's "super-fired up" about President Biden, at least on one issue: addressing climate change. Meanwhile, Musk's SpaceX rocket startup on Sunday launched 10 more satellites for its Starlink Internet-from-space service alongside 133 small sats from other companies. Early adopters, mainly people living in rural areas who can afford Starlink's $100 a month price tag, are loving it, Bloomberg reports. “This is a game changer,” mental health counselor Brian Rendel in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, tells the news service. "I’m part of civilization again.”

Bot-a-bot-a-bing. It's been almost five years since Congress passed the BOTS Act to crack down on the cyber-scalping of hot event tickets, but the Federal Trade Commission is finally on the case. In its first-ever use of the law, the FTC fined three New Yorkers almost $4 million for buying more than 150,000 tickets to music and sports events with bots and reselling them at huge markups.

Come put your lips on mine and shut me up. The popular voice chat app Clubhouse raised its profile and an unknown amount of private backing from investors led by Andreessen Horowitz. The money will go towards adding new features like ticket sales, subscriptions, and tips. In other financing news, annoying web content provider Taboola will go public by merging with a SPAC called ION Acquisition Corp. Maybe they will announce the deal as, "This celebrity service used to be private but you won't believe what it looks like now." Smart lock maker Latch is also going the SPAC route, merging with an entity sponsored by real estate giant Tishman Speyer Properties.

All your base are belong to us. After howls of protest, Microsoft is cancelling a price increase that would have doubled the annual cost of its Xbox Live gaming subscription for some users. "We messed up today and you were right to let us know," the company admitted in a blog post announcing the reversal.

Fat finger publicity. Remember on Thursday when Intel posted its earnings press release about 12 minutes early, while the stock market was still open? Initially, Intel said a hacker had stolen a page of the presentation, prompting the early release. But, no, it was nothing so racy. Turns out the URL hosting the page was accidentally made public. "Intel’s network was not compromised and we have adjusted our process to prevent this in the future,” the company said.

More jabs in more arms. With the pandemic still raging, Google says it will allow its facilities to be used for administering vaccines and the company will donate $150 million towards combatting COVID-19. Searches for "vaccines near me" have been skyrocketing, Google says.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

We've reported a few times on the revived rumors about Apple's possible automotive plans. Now former Apple exec Jean-Louis Gassée weighs in.

The automobile industry’s “Total Addressable Market” approaches $2.5T (as in Trillion) while the smartphone market is “only” $420B. I’ll extrapolate a little: Apple could be shooting for a minority share of the market but a majority portion of the profits, just the way it does in the “smaller” smartphone space. This all well and good until one considers a big difference: The auto industry is old, entrenched, and difficult to penetrate, while the smartphone space was still very young when the iPhone erupted on the scene.

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BEFORE YOU GO

It's time to play the music, it's time to light the lights. It's time to meet the Muppets on The Muppet Show tonight. Well, at least on a TV, phone, or tablet screen near you. Disney says it's putting all five wonderful and wacky seasons of The Muppet Show on its Disney+ streaming service starting next month. Can't wait.