Google complies with “right to be forgotten” but is it the “right” ruling?

The European Union Court of Justice ruling about the “right to be forgotten” is more wrong than right. Of course I sympathize  with the individual who pressed the claim — a Spanish citizen who was upset that Google was linking to a notice in a newspaper about his repossessed home from 1998. But even though the newspaper article may have been old and by now irrelevant, it was still factual and Google’s only crime was pointing to a Web page without making any value judgement — something Google has proudly done since the day it was founded.

Why it’s a bad decision

I have several problems with the court’s order. For one thing, it puts Google into the position of having to make editorial decisions about the content it points to, which kind of defeats the purpose of a search engine. I’m all for curated content, but that’s not what Google does. It simply scours the Web to unearth content and makes that content available via search. If Google has to start making decisions about whether to include content that someone might want forgotten, what other editorial decisions might it make about content? Do we really want Google effectively censoring the Web by failing to surface legal content?

Another problem I have with the right to be forgotten is that history is history, regardless of how unhappy someone might be to have it revealed. If something happened — even if it is outdated or irrelevant — it still happened and stories about it are part of the historical record. It’s the electronic equivalent of shredding old newspapers because you don’t like what’s printed in them.

It also creates a false sense of security because the court ruling doesn’t require that the information be taken down — just removed from search results. In other words, it’s still there and there may be other ways for people to find it.

Google’s Search removal request form

Google has created a web page where you can request that they “remove results for queries that include their name where those results are ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.’”

On that page, the company said that it “will assess each individual request and attempt to balance the privacy rights of the individual with the public’s right to know and distribute information.” Factors will include whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a “public interest in the information—for example, information about financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or public conduct of government officials.”

Europe only

The form is for Europeans only. The person has to select their country from a dropdown menu of 32 countries and must provide some form of identity verification and check a box certifying that the “information in this notification is accurate and that I am the person affected by the web pages identified, or I am authorized by that person to submit this request.”

People are required to provide the URL they want removed along with an explanation.

No appeal

Google has no choice but to abide by the court’s decision and, because it is the highest court in Europe, there is no appeal.