The Right to be Forgotten

For the last few days I’ve been musing about the recent “right to be forgotten” that has been imposed on Google (and, presumably other search engines, although I haven’t looked at Bing and others in any detail on this issue). Read this good Techcrunch feature if you don’t know what I’m talking about. And then I watched the excellent segment below¬†last night and things started to coalesce.

Needless to say, I think it’s a bad idea. If you are (to take a hypothetical example) a failed Spanish business man who is tired of people finding newspaper articles on your failures, you should turn to said newspapers and ask them to remove the incriminating articles from their online archives, or at least delete your name. The newspapers are the ones who wrote about you. Google changes nothing conceptually from someone finding an article on you in the paper archives of a library. Sure, it’s easier to find information on you via a search engine today than it was twenty years ago, but the search engine is not responsible for the information it links to.

The implementation seems even more ridiculous to me. Quite simply, here it is: I can see three circumstances here where this plays out, and all three are different :

  • first, you post stuff that you regret later. Then it’s your responsibility to remove it. Or it should have been your responsibility to not post it in the first place. Ignorance is a lame excuse in that instance: it’s been said enough that anything posted to the internet is there forever.
  • second, someone (an individual) posts stuff about you that harms your reputation (photos, sex-tapes, illegal recording). Then there are laws to protect you, you should sue their ass and get the content removed by law.
  • third, the (online) press at large writes about you. That’s not a search engine issue, it’s a freedom of the press issue. If it’s defamatory, you sue.

In none of these circumstances is the fact that potentially harmful information about you is available on the internet Google’s responsibility. None.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not about absolving Google on all issues, but on this particular issue, I think this is totally wrong-headed. Ironically, Google is playing this the way they play best: they’re playing dumb. The process to remove things is so manual and so subjective that the results will most likely be disheartening for anyone who wants out of Google.

And, as John Oliver points out in the video above, the Spanish guy who wanted his debts forgotten now is famous worldwide… for his debts.