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Mon, Oct 20, 2014

[Icon][Icon]The right to be forgotten

• Post categories: Omni, Rant, In The News, Technology

tl;dr: The right to be forgotten means that if John Smith gets a page removed from Google, it is only removed from searches for "John Smith" - it remains findable from any other search

I'm so sick of the "Right to be forgotten" ruling being misrepresented by journalists.

For anyone who didn't hear about it: an EU court ruled that Google (and others) must remove links to stories about people that contain outdated or incorrect information.

A simple example of why this is needed: John Smith gets taken to court and convicted of a crime. This makes headlines. He then appeals, and the conviction is quashed: He is found innocent. This doesn't make headlines.

Somebody googles "John Smith" and the first result is a link saying he was convicted of a crime.

It's not hard to see how this could have negative repercussions on a person. So the EU court ruled that in such circumstances, Google (et al) must remove the links from their search.

The two big lies that we keep being force-fed by the news services are:

  • Google is now obliged to remove any links that people don't like - e.g. if John Smith's conviction never got overturned in the above example, he could still get it removed so nobody knows about it. This isn't true: Information has to be irrelevant or inaccurate, and Google is entirely at liberty to refuse the request until a court insists that the link must be removed.
  • Far more importantly: Even if Google decides the request is valid and removes it, this does not cause the link to be removed from Google's results.

That might seem contradictory, but it's very simple: What Google has been obliged to do is remove the specified links from the results for a search for the person, not to remove them entirely.

To go back to our imaginary "John Smith", it means that if you google for the search term "John Smith", you will no longer get the page referring to his court conviction in the results. If, however, you do any other search that would turn up that page, such as maybe "man convicted of crime", then it will still turn up as always.

I'm so utterly sick of articles like this framing the matter as "Google cast me into oblivion", or claiming that pages "will no longer be findable when searching on Google in Europe."

Bullshit. It's a total lie. Prove it for yourself: Click on the link that it claims has been "cast into oblivion" and you'll find it's a page with the headline "Merrill's Mess"

Put those two words into a Google search, and what is the first result? A link to the fucking article that he claims has been erased from Google.

The right to be forgotten has not erased one single page from Google. It has not removed a single thing from the Internet's "memory". It does not allow terrorists, corrupt politicians, paedophiles, or any of the other "usual suspects" trotted out in these stories, to cleanup their past by removing any links to pages that say bad things about them. The pages are still there, still linked, and still findable. And Google should only be reacting to "right to be forgotten" requests that meet the criteria of the court. So a corrupt politician who's still in office, a criminal whose conviction was never quashed, etc. etc. - they don't have any standing to have their links removed.

If you're going to have an opinion on the "right to be forgotten", at least make sure you're basing on what it actually entails, instead of the "argh, mass-censorship!" bullshit that some journalists are trying to make you think it is.

Because I'm sick of this shit.

Thank you.

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