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The Right to be Forgotten by Google: Is it about Privacy or Censorship?
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The Right to be Forgotten by Google: Is it about Privacy or Censorship?

The original advantage of using Google over other search engines was that it found things others didn’t. This...

The Right to be Forgotten by Google: Is it about Privacy or Censorship?

The original advantage of using Google over other search engines was that it found things others didn’t. This is what gave the current tech giant a leg up over the competition, eventually propelling it into market dominance. Now, a European Court ruling is limiting the search engine’s ability to deliver in full. While some are championing the decision as a victory for privacy rights, others are condemning it for stifling freedom of the press.

 

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The “Right to be Forgotten” ruling, while not specific to Google, is most associated with the search engine because of its aforementioned dominance. Essentially, it means that search engines are responsible for the data they provide in the form of links to websites, notably news sites. It states that European citizens can apply for the removal of information that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.” Since the ruling applies only to searches conducted in Europe, Google searches in other parts of the world are unaffected. If you are in the European Union (or Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein) and really want to dig up some dirt, all you’d have to do is use a US proxy.

 

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The law is curious, as it requires Google to remove links at the request of individuals, while it does not require the news sites themselves to remove the same offending articles. The decision stems from a case involving a Spanish citizen who did not wish to be haunted by a 1998 story of his home foreclosure due to debts he has since settled. Ironically, the press coverage around the Right to be Forgotten has made far more people aware of the man’s financial misfortune than ever before, though at least the story is now accompanied by a positive update on his solvency.

 

As you’d expect, wealthy and powerful individuals and companies (remember: corporations are people, too) in influential positions are taking full advantage of the ruling to undo the past. And who can blame them?

 

From the Daily Mail:

 

“A story about a millionaire banker blamed for helping cause the global financial crisis was among the first to be hidden.

And a top flight referee who lied about a penalty incident and an airline accused of racism by a Muslim job applicant are among a series of MailOnline stories censored from Google.”

 

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The Press Strikes Back

Not everyone requesting coverage under the Right to be Forgotten is going to end up back in the headlines, but some high-profile cases will do exactly that. In such cases, taking advantage of the ruling backfires. After all, there’s no law against the press reporting on the fact that their own stories are being removed from Google. News sites like the Guardian, MailOnline, and the BBC are publishing articles about Right to be Forgotten requests, resulting in the very stories people are trying to bury coming back in fresh form. It’s all terribly meta.

 

The media is even publishing the links that Google is being requested to remove — and I don’t think Google minds one bit.

 

For more information on the Right to be Forgotten, check out the European Commission’s factsheet on the ruling.

 

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