Google buys Deja News' Usenet archive


The first example of internet users being blindsided by the retention of information they had thought was ephemeral was Usenet, a worldwide collection of discussion groups ("newsgroups") created in 1979. At the beginning, computers called each other directly to swap and distribute new postings; as the internet became available it became the primary medium for propagating Usenet's burgeoning collection of newsgroups. At its peak in the 1990s Usenet was a huge open system used by millions of people all over the world; readership declined as first the web and then social networks took off, but data traffic using the protocols continues to increase. For this reason, many ISPs no longer provide Usenet access to subscribers. 

In the 1980s and 1990s Usenet posters, many of them university students, expected their messages to be deleted from the servers that distributed them after a few weeks. In 1995, the company Deja News created a searchable archive of historical Usenet postings. Many users were concerned about the loss of context surrounding their words, which now seemed likely to be preserved indefinitely; others objected on copyright grounds. User pressure led Deja News founder Steve Madere to implement a system for removing archived materials when requested as well as an optional header users could add to their postings that would tell the service not to archive that posting.

In 2001, Google acquired Deja News and its archive along with a number of other archives dating back to 1981 and provided a new "Google Groups" interface to search and access all its postings. Under the EU's right to be forgotten, European users can request to have search results for their name delinked. Over time, Google has subsumed Usenet search into its main search product, and has quietly withdrawn the Usenet-specific "advanced search" that made it easy to find specific posters and historical postings. The archive remains an important social record of the early internet, requiring a balance between posters' privacy concerns and the loss of this important historical archive.

Writer: Fanlore, Paul Festa, Charles Stross. Gwern Branwen
Publication: Fanlore, Antipope Blog, CNet, Gwern Branwen's website

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