Google and the right to be forgotten – the truth is out there

By EDRi · July 2, 2014

After all of the noise surrounding the Google/Spain case, the “deletion” of search results, the paedophiles whose crimes would be washed away and the end of history, the reality of the case is slowly drifting into the media.

We were told by the Wall Street Journal three weeks ago that any search results that were changed as a result of the ruling “might” be highlighted and added to the Chilling Effects website. We now discover that this will not happen. Clearly, the number of out-of-date, prejudicial results that will be or have been the subject of a complaint will be very small and the chances of accidentally finding one will be miniscule. As a result, the Irish Examiner tells us that what is now happening is that searches for “some – but not all” individuals will produce a set of results that will include a notice indicating that “some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe”. So, instead of a one in a million chance that your search results will actually have been changed, you have much higher possibility of getting a message that suggests that European data protection law is malfunctioning and preventing the delivery of accurate search results.

Last month, Google informed the BBC that it had received search removal requests from a former politician who was seeking to hide alleged previous indiscretions. Last week, however, the Daily Mail told us, quoting a law firm that “this judgment will help certain people, but not when it concerns public figures or people in whom there is a genuine public interest.” and that “the ruling makes clear that public figures have a lower expectation of privacy”. One wonders why this was not so “clear” in the original reporting of the story.

Sadly, the misinformation is still continuing. An article on CNET, we are told that Google “fought hard to stop the law from being enacted”. This appears to hugely overestimate even Google’s lobbying power, as the European Directive that the Court interpreted to produce the ruling was adopted in 1995, three years before Google was created.

The BBC also reported on the “takedown requests” as a result of the ruling. More poetically, the Daily Mail referred to content being “wiped from the web”. Recently, however, the Tech Times explaining that no data at all needs to be deleted under the ruling. On 28 June, Techcrunch reported on the actual ruling, rather than the spin – correctly reporting that the Court ruling covers requests of “private individuals for the removal of outdated or irrelevant information returned when a search is made for their name”. So much for wiping from the web!

The Techcrunch article points to the real problem – that the final arbitration is put in Google’s hands. Google chooses to censor content on a national level on the basis of non-judicial requests in the UK, to censor different content on a national level in Germany, on a global level on the basis of US law – in all cases rendering the content completely unfindable in its index. In the Google/Spain case, the content remains in Google’s index and remains “findable” by any other means than “on the basis of the person’s name”. Google should have this decision-making foisted upon it by a court. Google should not be voluntarily grabbing this decision-making in other contexts. However, the fact remains that, both in terms of scale and intrusiveness, these restrictions are hugely less significant than the restrictions that Google voluntarily imposes for copyright and other content.

Google might highlight when search results are scrubbed for ‘right to be forgotten’ (09.06.2014)

Google begins removing search results following EU court ruling (27.06.2014)

Politician and paedophile ask Google to ‘be forgotten’ (15.05.2014)

Google starts scrubbing searches under EU’s “right to be forgotten” (26.06.2014)

Google deletes search results in Europe, abides by “right to be forgotten” rule (30.06.2014)

This week in the digital panopticon: Google and the right to be forgotten (28.06.2014)