Google has complied with the European Union court’s ruling that people have a right to be forgotten, releasing a tool that allows Europeans to submit links for removal from its search engine. The tool asks each person for information about why they are making the request and which links they would like removed; the request is then analyzed to determine whether or not it falls under the court’s ruling, and if it does, Google will pull the link from its search results.
There are many things we don’t know about the tool: how does Google analyze requests? How long will it take the company to remove links from its search results? How will the government monitor the tool’s usage to confirm that Google isn’t just playing at compliance? The company says that it will tell people when the links they asked to be removed are pulled, but warns that this is its first, imperfect attempt at making such a tool.
Few people are going to wait for answers to those questions before condemning the tool. Take Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who told the BBC that the ruling was “one of the most wide-sweeping Internet censorship rulings that I’ve ever seen.” Or the Washington Post, which said the ruling could “easily damage the flow of information on which the Internet depends.” Or consider any other number of people decrying the ruling before it’s even fully implemented.
Others, like Pando’s Ted Rall, welcome the ruling and think a similar law should come to the United States. As Ted wrote in his column about the EU’s decision and its ramifications:
In a well-moderated comments section, censorship of trolls elevates the level of dialogue and encourages people who might otherwise remain silent due to their fear of being targeted for online reputation to participate. A Google that purges inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant items would be a better Google.
But I suppose it doesn’t matter how anyone responds to this tool. It’s mandated by the EU, it’s been implemented by Google, and it will probably be used by anyone smart enough to take the chance to remove damaging links about them from the world’s de facto knowledge center. Whether you view that as censoring Google or helping people live their lives without being haunted by their pasts is irrelevant to the effect this tool will have on the Web.