This is either disturbing or futile… possibly both. The “Right to be Forgotten” concept is still all the rage in some corners of Europe and Britain seems to be taking it very seriously. After a prolonged battle, Google has now been ordered to remove certain articles from their search results because the items are considered to be at least “irrelevant” (though not inaccurate) and may be damaging to the reputation of the subject of a story. (Politico UK)
Google must remove nine search results to news stories that contain irrelevant information about a criminal conviction, the U.K. data protection watchdog ruled, sparking concerns about broader implications for press freedoms. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has given the search giant 35 days to comply with the order, which targets links that appear in Google search results for the person’s name.
Google declined to comment. However, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a lobbying group that counts Google as a member, blasted the U.K. decision.
“This latest ruling shows that we have an expanding ability to censor what is on the web,” said Chief Executive Ed Black. “The effort to selectively take down and hide information, which is in the public domain, is a dangerous precedent that can be used globally.”
This case involves a fairly meta set of events which may wind up swamping Google in Great Britain. The original complaint from the subject of the case regarded a set of links to a web site which allegedly detailed a “criminal act” he had committed in the past. Google took down that original set of links. However, that led to a bunch of fresh news stories about the fact that the links had been removed and bringing up the old material as background. The man asked Google to now take down all of those results as well, but they refused.
Google is taking them down now.
On the technical side I’ve never been sure how this works in terms of international boundaries. Do the results not show up for only people doing a search from France or England? Would the results show up when I log in from the United States? The article makes mention of the fact that most French users log in to Google.fr and they wanted to remove the links there, but not on the main Google.com so I suppose it’s not based on your IP address or anything similar. But assuming the searcher can read English, even if the link is gone from the French site, they can just log into the main domain, can’t they?
More to the point, though, is the privacy vs transparency issue. People shouldn’t be able to post and leave up patently untrue, slanderous things, but that’s a different question entirely. If something is historically accurate but embarrassing it seems to me that the subject shouldn’t be able to simply shuffle it off down the memory hole to avoid personal issues. And if this trend spreads further, Google may as well just shut down because they’ll be spending all of their time deleting links and fighting off lawsuits from people who have untidy bits of business in their past.