May’s ruling in the EU Court of Justice upholding the “right to be forgotten” online is beginning to have predictably strange effects, such as causing Google to scrub from its European search results a seven-year-old blog post from the BBC:
The post was removed because someone who was discussed in it asked Google to “forget” them. In the original article, [BBC economics editor Robert] Peston only named one particular individual, Stan O’Neal, a former executive at Merrill Lynch. That narrows down who put in the request to Google with great ease.
Peston describes his post as a discussion of “how O’Neal was forced out of Merrill after the investment bank suffered colossal losses on reckless investments it had made.” The post did not outwardly attack O’Neal, nor was it “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant,” which are the requirements set for being “forgotten.” This plays directly into fears that Google would allow illegitimate requests to slip through the cracks, “forgetting” search results that remain relevant, and undermining the freedom of journalism.
But Mario Aguilar thinks it was brilliant of Google to notify the BBC of this removal, effectively ensuring that it became news:
Looks like your dirty laundry is flapping in the wind all over again. And all because you tried to cover it up. Google’s response is a wonderful reaction to censorship and a triumph for transparency. It’d be better if nothing was getting de-indexed at all, but this is at least a delicious reminder that you can’t run away from your past on the internet. Nothing really goes away, and if you’re an idiot, you’ll pay the price forever.
Sooner or late, Drum figures, someone will come up with a way to effectively nullify the ruling:
I wonder if there’s a way to make this backfire? How hard would it be to create an automated process that figures out which articles Google is being forced to stuff down the memory hole? Probably not too hard, I imagine. And how hard would it then be to repost those articles in enough different places that they all zoomed back toward the top of Google’s search algorithm? Again, probably not too hard for a group of people motivated to do some mischief.
Update from a reader:
Update to the story here. Turns out the request came from a commenter to the article, not O’Neal himself.