Earlier this month the highest EU court ruled that individuals have the ‘right to be forgotten’ in Google’s search results. This means that any member of the public can ask Google to remove specific webpages from its search results if those pages contain information that is ”inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”.
Of course this immediately led to outcries of censorship and luddism, especially from the usual Silicon Valley cultists that advocate transparency and believe privacy is an outdated concept. Except when it comes to their own secrets and privacy, of course.
This commentary in The Guardian is one of the few pieces of constructive, balanced reporting on the whole kerfuffle. And this piece in The Register shows how a cooperative media is dancing along to Google’s PR song, resulting in dramatic misreporting of the actual facts.
We need to keep in mind that what Silicon Valley wants to know about you (which is everything, everywhere, all the time) is not necessarily conducive to a free and open society.
In the data-utopia envisioned by these Silicon Valley technology barons, we as the general public will be completely subject to the whims of the owners of that data. And the owners will be the internet giants like Google and Facebook and the advertisers they sell the data to.
We as citizens will not own our own data. We will have precious little control over who sees our personal information, and how it will be used. In this post-Prism world, that should really frighten you. If it doesn’t, watch this talk:
Now Google has begun to implement this Right to be Forgotten and has created a form that people can use to request webpages to be removed from European versions of Google.
This form asks for a lot of information, including a copy of the photo ID of the person affected. More than that, Ektor Tsolodimos discovered [Dutch] that the form itself seems subject to its own censorship in Google’s search results: it contains the noindex robots meta tag, and there is no link to it from anywhere on the google.com domain.
So, despite a crapload of very high authority links pointing to it (787 referring domains in Majestic SEO, and counting) Google will not show the form in its own search results, no matter how hard you try.
How’s that for irony? I can’t help but get the sense that Google, in typical fashion, is behaving like a spoilt 5-year old brat and throwing a bit of a childish temper tantrum about the whole thing.
Not that this has stopped people from submitting the form. To date Google reports it has already received thousands of requests, so the company’s infantile attempts at obscuring the form have obviously not had the desired result.
Rumour has it that when Google starts removing content per the EU ruling, it will make a statement to that effect in the relevant search results, as it currently does for DMCA notices:
This is, again, done in the name of full transparency. And this, too, reveals the depth of Google’s hypocrisy. For example, when Google removes a site as the result of a manual penalty, no such notice is given.
Apparently Google feels its own forms of censorship are perfectly legitimate and not worth pointing out.
Google’s Sergey Brin has said he’d rather forget the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling, but I for one am rather pleased that the European courts are not slavishly following Google’s monopolistic hunger for more data, and is allowing European citizens to push back and protect their own privacy in increasing measures.
Because if we don’t start to protect our own data, things are going to get a lot worse. Transparency is not the answer – it’s privacy that truly sets us free.
Addendum 03 June 2014: What’s also interesting about this EU ruling, and hasn’t been highlighted anywhere in the media, is how it suggests that the EU courts see Google’s search results not as a publication of editorial content – a legal claim Google makes to protect its search results as a form of free speech – but as a gateway to information published online.
This status of information gateway could theoretically put Google on a legislative par with internet service providers, and as such could subject the search engine to laws akin to net neutrality, as well as more restrictive antitrust legislation. Now there’s some interesting food for thought.