Google Shuts Down Stewart Baker's Faux Attempt To Delist Techdirt's Posts About Him

from the a-stupid-law-begets-stupid-outcomes dept

If you’ll recall, one of the NSA’s (and TSA, DHS, etc.) foremost apologists, Stewart Baker, decided to highlight the ridiculousness of Europe’s “right to be forgotten” ruling by sending in a few requests of his own. One of the links targeted by Baker’s “for demonstration purposes only” requests was the tag “Stewart Baker” here at Techdirt.

Reason this link violates the right to be forgotten:

This link is inappropriate. It compiles stories making many distorted claims about my political views. Political views are a particularly sensitive form of personal data. The stories are written by men who disagree with me, and they are assembled for the purpose of making money for a website, a purpose that cannot outweigh my interest in controlling the presentation of sensitive data about myself.

While Baker probably wouldn’t have been too terribly bothered if Google “forgot” Techdirt’s posts, the real point of his academic exercise was to probe for responses from the search giant. Baker didn’t do anything to game the system, clearly stated he was an American citizen and provided a copy of his ID as required.

The end result? Nothing that Baker challenged was removed, but the responses show that Google is at least following up on “right to be forgotten” requests from extra-jurisdictional requesters, rather than simply telling them the law doesn’t apply to them.

Would Google honor a takedown request made by a person who wasn’t a UK or EU national? The answer appears to be yes. Google’s response does not mention my nationality as a reason for denying my requests. This is consistent with Europe’s preening view that its legal “mission civilisatrice” is to confer privacy rights on all mankind. And it may be the single most important point turned up by this first set of hacks, because it means that lawyers all around the world can start cranking out takedown requests for Belorussian and Saudi clients who don’t like the way they look on line.

That’s not a promising development. Google may not be enforcing anything but the letter of the law, but the examination of requests coming from outside the ruling’s jurisdiction means Google is also somewhat acquiescing to the spirit of the ruling. But when it came to delisting information, Google drew the line for reasons unrelated to requester origin.

In an effort to see whether Google would let me get away with blatant censorship of my critics, I asked for deletion of a page from Techdirt that seems to be devoted to trashing me and my views…

To American ears, such a claim is preposterous, but under European law, it’s not. Google, thank goodness, still has an American perspective: “Our conclusion is that the inclusion of the news article(s) in Google’s search results is/are – with regard to all the circumstances of the case we are aware of – still relevant and in the public interest.” If I had to bet, I’d say that this rather vague statement is the one Google uses when other, more pointed reasons to deny relief don’t work. But the reference to this page as a “news article” suggests that Google may be using a tougher standard in evaluating takedown requests for news media, a term that applies, at least loosely, to Techdirt.

It appears that Google is still very hesitant to remove anything even “loosely” related to news media (a backhanded compliment from Baker!), which is good news. Not that Baker’s quick “hack” approaches anything near empirical research, but at least in terms of boilerplate responses, Google seems to defer to the public interest.

There’s no way to tell if that balance would shift more if the requester was actually European, and it would seem from early reports that newsworthy “right to be forgotten requests” are an exercise in futility even when they do result in delisting orders. Hitting news media with requests has only resulted in new news about requester’s actions/words he or she wants buried and, possibly more importantly, new articles, seeing as Google appears to be more protective of recent news.

I’m having trouble finding stuff in my search history that is sufficiently inaccurate or outdated, especially now that we know Google is treating professional activities and news as per se relevant (at least if it’s “recent,” whatever that means).

The RTBF is still a horrible idea that can only be implemented badly, and it will either get worse as more people find ways to game the system, or simply fall into disrepair as more people (especially anyone considered by Google to be a “public figure”) find it nearly impossible to bury past behavior. Like many other internet-targeted rulings, the idea behind it is (somewhat) noble, but the premise is utterly flawed and the actual deployment a complete farce. Google (and other search engines) are in an unenviable situation for the forseeable future, forced to comply with a law that simply can’t be complied with.

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Comments on “Google Shuts Down Stewart Baker's Faux Attempt To Delist Techdirt's Posts About Him”

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Anonymous Coward says:

All these right to be forgotten requests must cost businesses a lot of money. Google is receiving thousands of requests a day.

Right to be forgotten is simply:
bad for business
bad for the economy
bad for accountability
bad for the public interest

and ironically,

bad for privacy due to the additional attention RTBF takedown requests cause

In summery, right to be forgotten is a failure on all counts. Even at it’s main goal of privacy. Way to go Spain!

Anonymous Coward says:

Why apply it only to search engines?

I wonder if the proper way for the EU court to enforce their ruling should have been for the requester to contact the offending website directly, and ask that the information be removed. Search engines are only aggregators, after all. The original data still exists on a website. Certainly the EU court could have bound companies operating in the EU under the same restrictions. Properly applied, Google searches would then lead to a 404, or a rewritten source article with the offending material redacted.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Why apply it only to search engines?

Yes, this is a point many people (including myself) make — that targeting the search engine is simply wrong, both technically and as a matter of general policy. The correct thing is to target where the information actually is.

I think a clue as to why the law is the way it is lies in a defense I’ve heard from EU officials a few times: that this isn’t censorship because they’re not taking the information off the web, only the search engine links to it.

It’s weaselly in the extreme.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why apply it only to search engines?

I suspect that much of the “original data” is either news articles or information that’s a matter of public record.

Or in other words, direct censorship of the press, and records that governments are legally obligated to maintain.

Attempting that would run into all kinds of opposition, likely with precedent to back it up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Positive uses for RTBF

It looks like Mr. Baker has at least found a way to use RTBF to his advantage — generate a new round of news about his activities in a positive light, even on Techdirt 🙂

And this highlights the best way to bury a bad image on the internet: replace it with a more recent positive image. People only care about what you did in the past if things start to go badly for you; if you can point to a recent history about the positive things you’ve done, people (rightly) tend to ignore the old stuff as irrelevant.

Applesauce says:

For the benefit of all mankind

The EU’s “mission civilisatrice” is to confer privacy rights (Benefits) on all mankind.

That is the goal of ISIS/ISIL, too.. They have a different view of what benefits mankind, but never doubt that they are certain that what they are doing is ultimately for “the greater good” of a new world order (as they see it).

We’d all be better off if people would just stop trying to “improve” things.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: For the benefit of all mankind

excellent point…
just reading a book on authoritarianism, and one of the things they talk about, is how fundie xtians and fundie moose limbs are pretty much EXACTLY the same type of people: control freak authoritarians…
don’t know if it is mostly ironic or sad that if the fundie xtian had been born in moose limb land, he would be a fundie moose limb, and vice versa…

John85851 (profile) says:

Google != the Internet

Just a point of order in the last paragraph: the RTBF is not about “Internet-targeted rulings”- it’s a “Google-targeted ruling”. I can’t believe you, of all people, fell for the UK’s conflating “Google” and “the Internet”.

If lawmakers were really trying to regulate information on the Internet, they would have included Bing, Yahoo, and other search sites in their laws. Or better yet, tell people to file their RTBF with the source site, not the site acting as a card catalog.

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