Removing all trace of appearing in a vox pop … or why using the ‘right to be forgotten’ is an own goal

You can hide in Google …. but you can still be found

What sort of person contacts Google to make the most of the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling which entitles people to demand the search engine remove any results about themselves which they think are ‘outdated’ or ‘irrelevant.’?

This week, publishers began to find out who was making the most of the opportunity served up by a European court ruling. According to the Guardian, 70,000 such requests have been received so far, and whether they are are true, accurate or fair articles doesn’t enter into the equation thanks to the Google ruling.

Google has notified websites of links it will no longer be able to show ‘for certain searches’ on its European search pages – and the first bunch of links I’ve seen this week make cover a wide range of issues – and where more than one person is involved in a story, we don’t know who has triggered the complaint.

Not surprisingly, there were a whole bunch of links to stories of people who were either on the wrong side of the law, or being exposed as being such by the newspaper.

The most random one, though, was the story of ‘parking rage’ being a regular occurrence in a Buckinghamshire village. No-one’s court appearance was reported, no-one’s embarrassing exploits shared with the world. Just the concerns of people who didn’t like the way people were falling out over parking. It appears to be a

There has been a lot of concern about this ruling, and I saw one comment which likened it to ‘burning the books in the library.’ That’s not quite the case, because there is nothing in the ruling compelling publishers to remove stories people want to disappeared off the internet.

Many of the newsrooms I work with have had calls from people demanding content be removed from online archives ‘because I now have a right to be forgotten.’ That’s wishful thinking on their part … they have a right to be removed from Google in Europe, that’s all.

Right to be forgotten is a worrying precedent, and any¬†expansion of it needs to be fought. The Oxford Mail’s approach of writing stories about those stories which are removed, is an interesting way of doing that¬†but for now, I think using the law probably does those using it more harm than good.

Every newsroom has had to deal with calls from people asking for embarrassing stories to be removed from the archive. It’s hard not to have sympathy with some of the cases – after all, if a conviction is spent and you’ve been rehabilitated in the eyes of the law, is it fair that a prospective employer can do a search on you and find out what you did 10 years ago?

The other side to that argument, of course, is to consider how an employer would react if they subsequently found out something about your past which would have made them think twice about hiring you had they known. That’s not a good place to be.

And that’s why I think deploying the ‘right to be forgotten’ is a short-sighted thing for anyone to do. A few years ago, when I was still working on the Liverpool Daily Post, I wrote a feature about employers increasingly doing sweeps of Facebook (still quite new then), MySpace (less new) and Google to find out about prospective employers. These weren’t people doing a casual check of one search engine and looking at the first four results – most also went as far as searching newspaper archives too.

Name searches in internal site search boxes are the most common type of search in my experience. People are looking for information on a person for a reason and the ‘right to be forgotten’ doesn’t stop them finding out about you. All it does is make it harder to be found on Google in Europe – although as Ampp3d pointed out this week, there’s an easy way round that too:

As any journalist will tell you, there’s a skill to finding things out which people want hidden, but once you sense it is being hidden, it alerts you to the fact someone wants something hiding.

And that’s why the Right to be Forgotten rule is such an own goal for anyone who uses it. It begs the question why you want something hiding – and if someone is looking for information on you, they probably won’t stop at a Google search.

 

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2 comments

  1. The archaeologist wanting the link between his name and his shoplifting incident removed from the first page of Google is perfectly legitimate. People tend to forget that Google is just another web site, not the web itself, and the peculiarities of SEO and how it prioritises search results is not always relevant or just, especially when it comes to sensitive personal information.
    Put yourself in those shoes for a minute.

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