The so-called “right to be forgotten” is now back in the news for the umpteenth time.
The United Kingdom’s information commissioner has told the BBC that Google will have to be held accountable for its response to the “right to be forgotten” ruling, much like a polluter has to pick up its own mess. He also said that some concerns about the ruling should be dismissed:
‘All this talk about rewriting history and airbrushing embarrassing bits from your past – this is nonsense, that’s not going to happen,’ Graham said discounting fears that removal of links from search impacted the wealth of public knowledge.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s privacy watchdog has said that Google’s decision to tell publishers when links to their stories have been removed from its search results has subjected people who asked to be forgotten to increased scrutiny from the media, as Bloomberg Businessweek reports:
The world’s biggest search engine’s policy of telling media when it had pulled links to some stories has resulted in outlets flagging such articles. That may mean more publicity for a person who had asked for a removal from search results in the first place, said Billy Hawkes, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.
‘The more they do so, it means the media organization republishes the information and so much for the right to be forgotten,’ Hawkes said in an interview in Dublin. ‘There is an issue there.’
That hasn’t stopped members of the press from making a big deal of Google’s decision to remove links to their stories and, instead of criticizing the company for the deletions, lending credence to the idea that the “right to be forgotten” amounts to little more than censorship. I don’t think that’s the case, as I wrote in a blog post about the removals earlier this month:
So far it seems that stories about two people — one a disgraced referee and the other a former Merrill Lynch chief executive named Stan O’Neal — have been removed from Google’s search results. The removal of stories mentioning O’Neal has been especially controversial. Google, the techno-liberal’s icon of choice, has removed a story about a former executive after a government mandate, thus infringing on the press and its ability to reveal corporate corruption? That’s an outrage fetishist’s wet dream.
It’s also bullshit. The ruling refers specifically to Web pages with “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant” information. The stories about O’Neal are certainly relevant, which leaves two explanations for their removal: either the BBC’s information was inadequate, or the links were mistakenly removed from Google’s search results and should be immediately restored. Neither possibility should make people think that the court’s ruling threatens the freedom of the press.
It does show just how much power Google has over the world’s access to information, though, while demonstrating the company’s willingness to manipulate the press into opposing a ruling that it has repeatedly complained about to anyone willing to listen. Now it seems that at least a few of the government officials tasked with overseeing the company’s efforts aren’t going to fall for the bullshit and capitulate to its demands just because it managed to upset the press. (The same can’t be said for other officials, but that’s almost always the case with politics.)
So welcome back to the news cycle, oh controversial ruling. I expect we’ll be seeing you again soon.
[Image courtesy Professor Bop]