August 21, 2015

‘The Right to be Forgotten’ Is Getting Out of Hand

An invisible man in a business suit crosses his arms with the text "the right to be forgotten" and "has it gone too far" next to him.
Original image from Kim Komando

By Megan G.

Remember Google’s spat with the European Union?  The headlines had been quiet as of late… so much so that it seemed the EU had been satisfied in its Right to be Forgotten (RTBF) crusade, for Google has been actively removing links in compliance with the EU’s decision.  That silence was short-lived.    

As of August 18th, The Guardian reports that the Information Commissioner’s office has ordered Google to remove current news stories about the Right to be Forgotten, because they reference to a 10-year-old offense now protected by it.  Yep.  Google must remove links to stories about RTBF removals because of the RTBF.    

Very meta. 

The Inception film's movie poster with a maze pattern.
A news story within a news story… within another news story.  Image from Earn This

This Google-knows-what-you-did-last-summer gobbledygook has not been taken lightly by a few American publications, with news sources like Search Engine Land and Business Insider actively speaking out against the European Union’s attempts to censor the Internet.  Come on, EU.  We’ve seen the public’s reactions to issues of net neutrality.  That stuff doesn’t fly with web-users. 

The writers at Business Insider elucidate a practical view on this situation, explaining that “Asking Google to remove that content… is akin to asking libraries to remove news stories about individuals from their archives.”  Google is basically a virtual library that leads users to wherever they search, which is ideally to reliable and helpful sources.  If those resources happen to include less-than-flattering but public information, so be it. 

Some other arguments

While it is understandable that someone wouldn’t want a ten-year-old offense affecting their online reputation—especially when it comes to keeping business relationships, there are other possible ways to approach that dilemma.  Perhaps people who search for that subject should take the date of an offense into account before panicking and cutting ties.

Two businessmen scale a mountain, and one prepares to cut the other's rope before he can reach the top.
“I saw that gum packet you stole 20 years ago, Harold!  
Thought you could pull the wool over my eyes, did you!?” 

On the flip side, there are particular cases where the Right to be Forgotten could function as a champion of good rather than an annoying system of saving face:  Victims of sexual assault could have their news stories be hidden from search engines to save them from reliving that pain.  Victims of cyber bullying could have the attacks made on them erased. 

In the midst of the defamatory nitpicking, there are certainly stories worth keeping away from the ravenous eyes of the Internet.  Right?

What’s your opinion on the Right to be Forgotten?  How can Google find a balance between censoring public content and protecting their users?  Let the Tek Team know your opinions in the comments!    

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