As Google Begins to Forget, Do You Really Have a ‘Right to Be Forgotten’?

By: Josh Wolford - June 26, 2014

The internet doesn’t forget. Ask anyone who’s been punished by the brutal truth of the web. The internet doesn’t care that you didn’t really mean what you said in that tweet. The internet doesn’t care that you were super drunk in college and that was a one time thing. The internet doesn’t care that you’re a different person now, and the past is the past.

If you’ve done it, there’s some record of it online. The internet never forgets.

But that doesn’t mean that search engines, the tour guides of the internet, have the same ironclad memory. And thanks to a recent court ruling, search engines are set to be forced into forgetting. It’s a digital lobotomy – and it’s just beginning.

Should Google be forced to remove search results upon request? Let us know in the comments.

In May, The Court of Justice of the European Union handed down a controversial ruling regarding search results and requests to remove them.

“An internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties…Thus, if, following a search made on the basis of a person’s name, the list of results displays a link to a web page which contains information on the person in question, that data subject may approach the operator directly and, where the operator does not grant his request, bring the matter before the competent authorities in order to obtain, under certain conditions, the removal of that link from the list of results,” said the Court.

And thus, the so-called “right to be forgotten” was born. Basically, the ruling makes Google and other search engines responsible for removing results at the request of individuals – in some cases. The decision to remove search results will be up to the search engines, but if agreements cannot be made between search engine and petitioners, then off to court they’ll go.

More from the ruling:

So far as concerns, next, the extent of the responsibility of the operator of the search engine, the Court holds that the operator is, in certain circumstances, obliged to remove links to web pages that are published by third parties and contain information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of that person’s name. The Court makes it clear that such an obligation may also exist in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those pages is lawful.

The Court points out in this context that processing of personal data carried out by such an operator enables any internet user, when he makes a search on the basis of an individual’s name, to obtain, through the list of results, a structured overview of the information relating to that individual on the internet. The Court observes, furthermore, that this information potentially concerns a vast number of aspects of his private life and that, without the search engine, the information could not have been interconnected or could have been only with great difficulty. Internet users may thereby establish a more or less detailed profile of the person searched against. Furthermore, the effect of the interference with the person’s rights is heightened on account of the important role played by the internet and search engines in modern society, which render the information contained in such lists of results ubiquitous. In the light of its potential seriousness, such interference cannot, according to the Court, be justified by merely the economic interest which the operator of the engine has in the data processing.

It’s an interesting take on what a search results page really is – an “interconnector” of information. In a way, the court said that Google kind of creates its own content, its own narrative about any given person through a search results page for said person. But more on this later.

This “right to be forgotten” has been the cry of many for years. Naturally, people don’t want every little thing they’ve ever done and every little thing they’ve ever been associated with appearing in a basic Google search for their name. This particular ruling from the EU court stems from the case of Mario Costeja, of Spain, who complained of an auction notice of his repossessed home, which is now resolved, continuing to show up in Google search results, infringing upon his privacy.

As you would imagine, Google’s argument is that being forced to remove certain search results simply because an individual doesn’t like them amounts to censorship.

“[The ruling is] disappointing…for search engines and online publishers in general,” said Google of the ruling.

But they complied, and soon the requests began to flow – 12,000 of them even before Google launched a reporting tool for concerned parties to air their search result grievances. After that, the numbers skyrocketed.

“In evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about your private life. We’ll also look at whether there’s a public interest in the information remaining in our search results—for example, if it relates to financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions or your public conduct as a government official (elected or unelected). These are difficult judgements and as a private organization, we may not be in a good position to decide on your case. If you disagree with our decision you can contact your local DPA,” explains Google.

Apparently, Google agreed with the petitioners on some requests, and now, Google is starting to forget.

“This week we’re starting to take action on the removals requests that we’ve received,” a Google spokesman said. “This is a new process for us. Each request has to be assessed individually, and we’re working as quickly as possible to get through the queue.”

Google has begun to remove search results and add disclaimers at the bottom of results pages – basically saying that some search results may have been removed in order to comply with EU law.

Google had this to say:

We look forward to working closely with data protection authorities and others over the coming months as we refine our approach. The CJEU’s ruling constitutes a significant change for search engines. While we are concerned about its impact, we also believe it’s important to respect the Court’s judgment and are working hard to devise a process that complies with the law.

When you search for a name, you may see a notice that says that results may have been modified in accordance with data protection law in Europe. We’re showing this notice in Europe when a user searches for most names, not just pages that have been affected by a removal.

Clever. I may be a little heavy-handed in my reading of this, but to me it sounds like Google’s subtle way to express their disappointment in the EU’s ruling. Instead of simply adding that disclaimer to pages where they’v actually yanked results, Google wants users to know on every page that the man is holding them down…man. You have incomplete search results, and you know who’s fault it is.

Whether that’s the case or not is moot. The salient aspect of this whole issue is that it’s part of bigger trend – one that might be out of Google’s control. They can continue to cry censorship and express “disappointment” in rulings that hamper their ability to provide complete search results – but the world seems to be turning against them in this regard.

In late 2012, an Australian high court likened Google to a publisher, saying,

“Google Inc is like the newsagent that sells a newspaper containing a defamatory article. While there might be no specific intention to publish defamatory material, there is a relevant intention by the newsagent to publish the newspaper for the purposes of the law of defamation.”

Instead of simply being a ‘link-lister’, Google was deemed a publisher of the publishers, of sorts. The distinction was made even muddier when the court, ruling on a lawsuit in which a man sued Google for associating his name and image with (untrue) claims of ties to organized crime, talked about Google Image results being a “cut and paste creation” – as in content created by Google.

Here, Google was seen as publisher and therefore liable for defamation.

“It follows that, in my view, it was open to the jury to conclude that Google Inc was a publisher – even if it did not have notice of the content of the material about which complaint was made. Google Inc’s submission to the contrary must be rejected. However, Google Inc goes further and asserts that even with notice, it is not capable of being liable as a publisher ‘because no proper inference about Google Inc adopting or accepting responsibility complained of can ever be drawn from Google Inc’s conduct in operating a search engine,'” said the court.

And then there are the various autocomplete woes, wherein Google has been fined for their autocomplete suggestions. We’ve seen this happen all across the world – France, Japan, Italy, and more. The fact that Google’s autocomplete results are not manual, carefully chosen and suggested straight from the brains of Googlers (and are instead based on algorithms and search frequency) hasn’t stopped international courts from finding Google responsible for what it suggests in any given search.

The common thread between all of these cases, including the most recent “right to be forgotten” ruling, is that Google is ultimately responsible for what it provides in a search.

You have to imagine that this is just the beginning, and Google’s fairly weak resistance to comply with the EU court’s decision means the the “right to be forgotten” may soon become a more universal right.

Do you really have the right to be forgotten? Or is this censorship, plain and simple? Let us know in the comments.

Image via Google

Josh Wolford

About the Author

Josh WolfordJosh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf

View all posts by Josh Wolford
  • wertwert

    Yes… you have a right to be forgotten. It is why minors’ records are sealed and courts have a process to expunge records. The internet is littered with cases of people being humiliated and harassed in a permanent and public fashion. It causes agony and hardship for people and their families and in some cases even leads to suicides. So yes Google has a legal responsibility when the courts say so.

    • Richard Dambrosi

      expunged does not mean forgotten in the least , weather its a minors offnce or what ever the reason .. if you beleieve that you are truly gullible aND LIVE IN world I haven’t found..

      youth have this going for them it makes laws that say if any one with knowlege of the wrong doing speaks of it or any thing one any one related to it they can be in serious trouble if the law finds out gossip is rarly reported to court officails and even when it is rare is the chance they will toss a productive member a COMMUNITY IN A jail cell for it..

      expunging the record simlly means it is buried in country court house archive where it is more difficult to come by NOT IMPOSSIBLE , there are people with the will and knolege to find things if they really want to dig it up.
      I have a sone in his 30s who got in troulbe for an adult matter and was treated as youth record expunged the whole 9 yards and yet he was 12 at the time today in his 30’s married a familly of 4 he still lives with the stigma of that today and cause issues in his life to this day ..

  • Zing Mua

    zing mua mua sắm thời trang tiêt kiệm 98%

  • THE ! GROOVY ! GROUP ! ®

    What about Bing and Yahoo? They should have to do the same.

    Best regards

    THE ! GROOVY ! GROUP ! ®

  • jonne

    The European court has juristriction over Europe, it is not an issue for debate outside of Europe. America should do as it sees fit but Europe has the right to do as it sees fit – its our choice – our elected representatives and juristriction. Google operating in Europe does as Europe says – plain and simple.

  • werwerwer

    But delisting from google does not disappear the information. I dont think it has anything to do with google. If a site has false information on someone get that site to take it down. Otherwise facts are facts. Google is just listing the content of websites – and trying its best to give you the best answer for your search,

  • Lauran Childs

    Of course we have a right to be forgotten – or to revise our image. I’m a ghostwriter and one of the interesting aspects of it is how one can re-contextualize facts and memory into much more positive things than were perceived at the time. In connection to this, after observing the damage that a lot of young people in particular do to themselves and each other on the internet, I’m extra convinced of our right to expiate any information we want about us.

  • Loki57

    This could get “interesting”. What if Google extended a proud middle finger over the international nature of the net, by pro forma complying fully with EU court orders, but then placing obvious links to “find (various country, USA, China, Iran, EU) version of this result page” links prominently? They could of course offer a silly disclaimer of sorts, like “Not your proper sensed location?”, just above that.

    Some information really should not go away. Why else is there a “Greenhouse” political funding hotlink plugin now for Firefox and Chrome, to help discover honest politicians*? (* “honest politician” = One who once bought, stays bought, unless on the rent to own plan.)

    Should a nutcase court-defined vexacious litigant like Diane Stretton ever expect to have her history made invisible? How many victims, like the Bracamontes, are harmed by not finding the right information before engaging employees who turn out to be apparent criminal frauds (claim of disabling COPD not disclosed up front, etc)?

    What if one Googles Ann Dieleman, Lisa Pleiss, and Andrea Mears? (All of whom could now reasonably be seen as “public figures” under US law….)

    Do potential partners, or employers, or members of the public, deserve fair warning about each of them? All of them seem to have some misguided through delusional issues about law, technology, and protecting privacy.

    Mears complained that a geek’s nature photo drone project at the largest public park beach in CT was allegedly some perverted attack on her nonexistent rights, and caused video of her assault and false police complaint leading to her arrest to go viral internationally, including tech, law, and business blogs, a documentary, and general infotainment and online modes. She’s only 23, but are guys who prefer to avoid violence and false police complaint prone nutcases entitled to know, or her to hide public info from them?

    Dieleman is the VP of a cornhole state legal services firm, who tried to increase her privacy by suing Google to take down a “SexyExecs” comedic blog listing of her “$500 Just had a Nooner do” listing, and drew viral attention that’d never exist from that blog alone. That’s a senior corporate officer acting like an impulsive, angry teen. Would your law firm like to hire her for policy or publicity development, ever?

    Pleiss is a 39 year old headhunter, moved from a major personnel firm, to Microsoft and then Amazon senior positions. She’s apparently worked to improve her personal privacy as she’s been required to increase professional visibility, and has an unlisted phone available from data brokers at her fancy apartment in the Aspira Tower in Seattle. Like Dieleman, she clearly handles confidential info of others and should be skilled at that, but never learned a dose of STFU such positions require. She’d likely have remained obscure, had she not gone wild on Facebook and with police complaints, with false claims of a drone contracting to the same LMN Architects who designed her building, recently working on a project documented in detail in that city’s Web site for another huge developer, allegedly invading her apartment while doing no such thing. She also spouted off on KGW TV, whose coverage raises some additional public issues. They cover Joe Vaughn of Skyris Imaging, the Portland company using a drone to photograph the proposed development site across the street, claiming to have done nothing nefarious. Competent reporters would have informed viewers why that was untrue, as while Skyris wasn’t a high tech peeping Tom, that same TV station just 2 weeks earlier ran a story on how under current FAA rules, most private drone use is legal, but most commercial drone use is illegal, while the FAA is struggling to meet Congressional mandates to update aviation law over commercial drone use demands. Vaughn and his company deserve fines and to be shut down, as that law now stands, and it’s a public issue of major media failing to link issues of their own stories to report fully and accurately, as well as how some big money architects and developers are contracting for now illegal activities.

    Just like Dieleman’s bad hair corporate bio image, that she’s since updated thanks to netizens ridiculing her after her unwise failed extortion by specious litigation, Pleiss has a LinkedIn bio (may require tech skills to view, from LinkedIn’s defective mask page and bad loading script structure) with a photo that looks like someone older, typical of drug addiction (ETOH, nicotine, or other), or excess sunburn. While both acted unprofessionally, both of their actions relate to examples of larger public policy and law cases, where those examples are not complete if select pieces are censored from equal visibility over the years. Whether Europe or the USA, etc, that’s a major issue of Common Law based systems where statutes are shaped by case law and regulatory history and examples, and the system by design requires privacy be compromised in order to record public issues.

    Speaking of Greenhouse and the need for public documentation of who funds politicians, what shows up if one notices the owner of Webpronews and iEntry making political donations? Some of those are on public record as going to incumbents with criminal involvement. Or, compare policies of major telcos and cell carriers, or resellers, and one notices partisan, or equal division, and issue rather than candidate, practices. One reseller that promises support of Dems to customers resells the carrier with a strong GOP leaning, a bit dishonest. George Soros is suspected of using MoveOn as astroturf, though Rove and Koch and similar GOP fronts are far more noted for that. Soros is generally careful to use a business address on donations, but it only takes a few acts by a sloppy secretary, and his home address is in public political records.

    It’s incredibly tricky distinguishing private info turned public for important cause, and info used primarily to harass without any justification. Regardless of court orders, international jurisdictions and technology can usually trump law, such that the most effective way to preserve privacy requires long term strategic discipline most humans lack, and which is often nearly impossible for people in some professions or hobbies.

    One can’t buy the viral promotion abuse of legal process and news coverage can offer. Remember “2 Girls, 1 Cup”? The Brazilian scat porn movie to which that was the trailer was obscure and only available in the USA from a little known Florida importer, prior to a religious lynch mob driven malicious obscenity prosecution. After that, rather than being sought by very few adults with credit cards, the entire movie “Hungry Bitches” appeared on EU based servers, for free, available to all ages. Given the prejudices behind such malicious prosecutions, who can prosecute the US Dept of Justice for that scam, or the US Supreme Court for fraud and bias in precedents like Pacifica or Miller (indecency and obscenity, based on religion driven criteria falsely called neutral)?

    Complex stuff, when one realizes that precedents defining national jurisdictions as the highest law are no longer functional, while the biggest powers, like China, USA, EU, and UN, all have conflicting notions of human rights, genocides, war crimes and wars of aggression, or procedural exceptions that block enforcement of the worst abuses and abusers.

  • Richard Dambrosi

    it is far better to live in a world where forgiveness and understanding of your past exists then to just be digitally forgotten .. its not the images and word on a computer screen that hurt you or are unforgiveing its the humans in front of them who continually judging you for what you were for a breif moment in a vewry long life time ..

  • Richard Dambrosi

    in order for the internet to honestly forget NOT PEOPLE , They would have to shut it down and restart the whole thing with all news users and hard drives no way to upload anything not filtered in every way computers were made to store data entered the internet is like hotel california ..

  • ken Brown

    Actually if you look at the case results in every case, search engine results have been plain wrong. People defamed, businesses attacked and so on. If google (and the others) actually fix their results and make them accurate they will not fall foul of the law. The big hit against Google’s dodgy results is yet to come.
    Trademark owners globally are being screwed by upstarts who use black hat seo to use rights owners marks to steal their clients.
    Sooner or later, Google will have to stop carrying adverts of infringers and allowing them to game their results via black hat SEO.
    The sooner, the better!
    After all, you do a search for a Rolls Royce, you want that and not some cheap copy passed off as the real thing.

  • Wank Cambell

    Blblthhhhblaaah throughout. A site with zero standards, another unoriginal article with zero originality. Gimme a break. The curves on my cat’s turds have better angles than this.

  • Mark Lamendola

    I think all of this is rather pointless. The real question is, “Why does anybody use Google for search in the first place?” The quality of Google SERPs has hugely dropped as a consequence of Penguin and Panda.

    A little use of one’s brain reveals why: a site can focus on providing quality content or on playing Google’s sick games. Doing both requires more resources than most sites have available, especially if they are e-commerce sites that also must manage customer service, inventory, etc.

    Google egregiously violates its own poorly-worded, obfuscating Webmaster guidelines, yet dictates publishing “standards” and site design standards to everyone else. The Google non-search engine is simply a spam ad server, strongly resembling what you get from those browser hijackers / search “helpers” that get installed along with “free” software. You can compare Google to any real search engine and see amazing differences, none of which reflect well on Google.

    Not that Google would ever heed my advice, but if they did I’d tell them to eliminate the search quality disasters known as Penguin and Panda, and to replace Matt Cutts with somebody competent. I would also advise that they hire people who have held real editorial positions in the print magazine world if they wish to be ethical and/or competent in making their editorial rules.

    The rest of us need to keep telling it like it is, and reminding users that “google it” and “search for it to get good results” are two very different things.

    The cure for Google-itis is to make Google irrelevant. For people who are smart about how they perform online searches, Google’s irrelevancy is already the case. We just need the masses of zombies to wake up and get a clue. Then maybe Google will drop its “Do more evil” act.

  • Robert Furst

    All that will happen is commercial services will pop up and start charging for the same service. Mess up online and you may as well be standing in Times Square on New Years eve naked on the falling apple.

  • Jared

    When asked, Google has always removed search results as long as I give them a good reason, so I’m not sure are talking about.

  • Paolo

    Yes, search engines should be forced to remove user’s information at a user’s request. The American position on freedom of expression on the internet has turned into predator’s right to harrass and blackmail people who may have to loose economically from being tinted by a predator effort to collect money for removal of information.