UK Orders Google To 'Forget' News Articles Discussing Previous Right To Be Forgotten Requests

from the the-EU's-internet:-a-recursive-planned-community dept

We knew this day was coming. Ever since the EU decided something called the “right to be forgotten” existed, and that Google (mainly) would be tasked with the “forgetting,” the descent into an Inception-esque state of forgetting about forgetting about the forgotten was the illogical next step forward.

Google has been ordered by the Information Commissioner’s office to remove nine links to current news stories about older reports which themselves were removed from search results under the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling.

The search engine had previously removed links relating to a 10 year-old criminal offence by an individual after requests made under the right to be forgotten ruling. Removal of those links from Google’s search results for the claimant’s name spurred new news posts detailing the removals, which were then indexed by Google’s search engine.

Google refused to remove links to these later news posts, which included details of the original criminal offence, despite them forming part of search results for the claimant’s name, arguing that they are an essential part of a recent news story and in the public interest.

As everyone should have known, forcing a state of forgetfulness more often results in the opposite happening. All Ms. Streisand wanted was for people to stop looking at her house. Now, more than a decade later, many internet denizens can conjure up a mental image of her coastline mansion with minimal effort.

Now, when journalists are informed that certain stories need to be “forgotten,” they’re obviously going to write about it. And with good reason. A stupid decision by the European Union basically gives almost anyone the right to vanish away facts about their past misdeeds. And journalists are going to be righteously angered that past reporting on factual events just has to “go away.” So, they report on the requests. And now those hoping to erase the past are condemned to repeat it. Not fair, says the ICO. Henceforth, more stupidity.

The UK’s Information Commission (ICO) seems to know what it’s asking is basically a futile gesture with one foot firmly planted in the realm of impossibility, but it’s going to ask for it all the same.

[Deputy Commissioner David] Smith said: “Let’s be clear. We understand that links being removed as a result of this court ruling is something that newspapers want to write about. And we understand that people need to be able to find these stories through search engines like Google. But that does not need them to be revealed when searching on the original complainant’s name.”

See? It’s so easy. This can all be fixed just by ensuring complainants don’t find anything they don’t like when using their own name as a search term. There are no specific instructions for Google to follow other than to delist any requested article discussing Google delistings in response to “right to be forgotten” requests.

Obviously, this decision will only result in more articles about requesters and their requests, which will populate search results, leading to more requests to be forgotten, followed by more directives by the various European government bodies, reaching the point where Google will be asked to remove links to articles discussing the removal of links to articles discussing removed links. Repeat until nauseated.

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Comments on “UK Orders Google To 'Forget' News Articles Discussing Previous Right To Be Forgotten Requests”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Removing something would make some sense if factually wrong. Which is not the case. And even so it shouldn’t be removed from Google. When somebody is selling illegal stuff online you remove the goddamn operation from existence, not the site that provides information about it much less the freaking search result provided by whatever mechanism because, tad-daaa, when the physical thing ceases to exist then the results will also vanish, otherwise they’ll just keep popping up one way or another. But it takes another level of censorship and idiocy to remove factual things OTHER people wrote about that involved someone that misbehaved.

The judicial documents, are they public in the UK (as they are here and in the US it seems)? If so, are they removing those too? If so, can we agree that this is a very bad thing in terms of jurisprudence and transparency?

Obscurity and censorship, do we really want to go down that hole? Why don’t you remove historic stuff from the net to protect people from the Goebbels, [insert other similar names here] family for instance? I’m waiting.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Obscurity and censorship, do we really want to go down that hole?”

Actually, the way I’m reading it is that neither does the UK’s ICO. Hidden in the wording of Smith’s statement is essentially an admission that he knows it’s futile to try and remove the originating articles, and that it’s futile to try and stop Google from returning search results of any kind.

But, he has to look like he’s enforcing this idiotic law so he’s made a very narrow request that he presumably knows will have little real effect other than satisfy the complainant’s fragile bruised ego. Until the next set of articles about him is written, of course.

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

On the Home Page

I wonder what will happen if these end up on the news site’s home page.

Imagine if a site wide sidebar said, “Stories the EU doesn’t want you to know about” with a list of article names/keywords.
The only option would be to remove the entire website. If that happened to a large national newspaper there would be a huge backlash.

The Streisand Effect isn’t new. Authors used to use “Banned in Boston” as a selling point after all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: On the Home Page

“The only option would be to remove the entire website. If that happened to a large national newspaper there would be a huge backlash.”

If the newspaper is a U.S. based only newspaper it can’t happen. What is the UK going to possibly do? Rule against a company based in the U.S.? and then what?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

I forget

Am I supposed to forget that ‘abc’ committed crime ‘xyz’ against ‘mno’, or am I supposed to forget that Google had a link to it? What if I am ‘mno’, am I supposed to forget a crime that was committed against me? How does one unsee something?

Is the UK ICO going to start trying to lobotomize their entire population in order to forget something, or everything? If so, I recommend they start with lobotomizing everyone in the government, specifically the elected. This will not only show their leadership but has the added advantage that they might forget why they gave the order to lobotomize everyone.

Another solution might be to start running articles that instead of mentioning the criminal’s name, they use some euphemism like ‘this asshole’ with a link to the case number. That way ‘that asshole’s’ name never shows up in the article, and a Google search will not return a result when ‘that asshole’s’ name is part of the query.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

The “right to be forgotten” may be one of the creepiest things I’ve ever heard of. Let’s dissect the phrase a little.

“Forgotten” is the past tense of “forget”, which literally means “to stop remembering”.

“To be forgotten” is not something you do; it’s something someone else does: they stop remembering about you.

A right, in this context, is a limitation on the absolute freedom of others, enforceable by the law.

Generally speaking, rights are a good thing, but not always, and this one, taken literally, borders on the terrifying: the legal right to forcibly remove [certain facts about] yourself from the memory of others.

Considering that memory is the foundation of one’s identity, you could take this one simple concept, turn up the liberalism just a tad, and write a really scary dystopian novel about it!

Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This “right to be forgotten” is of course not to be taken literally. (That would be thought policing, which is both illegal and impossible.)
However, what it actually is is not much better: it’s the “right to prevent people from reminding others about you”… which is basically a right to censor things about you past a certain date (which is not even clearly defined).

It means that you can ask everyone to stop publishing a piece of information about you once you consider that piece is not “relevant”. (= Outdated information)

This is quite arbitrary and will be abused. Already is from what I can hear.

TheResidentSkeptic says:

So if you don't use Google...

Let’s say you just happen to “know” the URL of or some other news website, and you go there and read an article directly. Since the articles are not what is removed, they are still available.

I didn’t use google – so I don’t know the story was the subject of a “right to be stupid” link removal; am I now guilty of having that dreaded “forbidden knowledge” ???

Have I broken the CFAA by typing in a real URL instead of using search? After all, if you type “1234” at the end of an url that was “….?account=1233”, that is hacking and gets you a nice prison term.

So how much of an URL can I type without violating CFAA? Can I read an article that I don’t know has been “delinked”?

Exactly where does this line of stupidity end?

Meridius_IX says:

Re: So if you don't use Google...

Some interesting points, but I don’t think you’d be violating the CFAA. If memory serves me correctly, the CFAA is an American law, while the Right to be Forgotten is EU.

If a page is ‘forgotten’, I believe is it only blocked if you were trying to access the page from a country covered under the Right to be Forgotten law.

So you ‘should’ be able to access said page via a google search in the USA. And even if you accessed said page by modifying the url, I doubt that could be held against you since that ‘forbidden knowledge’ wouldn’t be considered forbidden based on USA law.

If you were in the EU and accessed the page by modifying the URL, the CFAA shouldn’t apply because it’s not law in the EU.

Disclaimer: I’m not American, European or a Lawyer – If I’m mistaken here, please enlighten me to the error of my ways.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Missing the point here...

As was revealed by the Torture Report(s), Google provides specialized, PRIVATE search engine technology to PRIVATE datasets.

These rulings are to keep the PUBLIC from access – is anyone really naive enough to believe they’ll vanish from GOVERNMENT databases?

Move along, citizen, nothing to see here….

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Missing the point here...

Is anyone naive enough to think that anything will actually disappear, no matter what Google remove from their databases?

Apparently, yes, the authors of this nonsensical law do. This reminds me of those goofball managers who “have a brilliant idea, and all you need to do is blah“, where “blah” == “transmute lead into gold.”

I think we need physicists to weigh in on behalf of news reporters. “Yesterday, today, tomorrow; that’s how time works. What’s done is done, and you can’t change the past.”

When you can show me proof that you’ve gone back in time and convinced your grandfather to get a vasectomy prior to his meeting your grandmother, then we’ll talk. I’ll buy that first working prototype time machine, btw.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Missing the point here...

I think we need physicists to weigh in on behalf of news reporters. “Yesterday, today, tomorrow; that’s how time works. What’s done is done, and you can’t change the past.”

Unless, of course, the people who wrote the RTBF law reject Hawking’s chronology protection rule, and have determined that we exist in a rotating Gödel universe. Maybe they’ve been doing more with the LHC than they’re letting on…

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Missing the point here...

“Yesterday, today, tomorrow; that’s how time works.”

Physicists are about the least likely group of people in the world to make that assertion about time.

I was not including String Theorists in “physicists”, nor was I thinking tachyons are relevant here either.

Maybe we need to include philosophers too. At least they understand the Law of Causality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Missing the point here...

There is a problem in Getting Google to forget, they cannot just drop the link from the datasets, but have to add it to a black list, so that they do not relist it when they next visit the source site. Therefore they are building a database that of interest to hackers, or a disgruntled employee, so it it will be made public sooner or latter.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Missing the point here...

Sigh. Paranoia? They’re ALREADY doing it.

Public search engine will turn up nothing due to blacklisting. Same search engine accessed from an “undesignated official government IP” will bypass the blacklist.

C’mon, this is simple DBMS work. Level One users have a lot more access to data, not just edit/delete functions than Level Ten users.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Missing the point here...

These rulings don’t remove anything from any databases. All they are doing is telling search engines not to include links to the pages in their search results when certain search terms are used. You can still find the pages using other search terms.

All of which only makes the law even more despicable.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Missing the point here...

These rulings don’t remove anything from any databases. All they are doing is telling search engines not to include links to the pages in their search results when certain search terms are used.

Those search links would be in Google’s database. At least for a somewhat broad definition of the term.

cfv says:

Well, the answer is obvious. For a week, show a parallel index without any site that mentions anyone who requested the right to be forgotten, and add a link with a wording along the lines of “This website has information about a person that has requested to be forgotten, and we can’t be sure about which specific pages do mention them. Please, go ask your family lawyer about options.”

And watch trillions of euros back your predicament by the 2nd day.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If Google has to forget that they have been told to forget …

That’s damned near sublime. I wonder if they can use that as a defence in court. “You told us to forget, so we forgot. How can we remember what we forgot? Why are you blaming us for doing what we were told to do? WTF, judge?!?”

I hope you win funny of the week for this. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Someone should simply start a U.S. only based search engine where anyone can specifically search for the names of people who have been removed from other search engines. Then anyone interested in finding the names of a potentially forgotten person can simply go there (and businesses will easily find ways around region restrictions). That will show the UK.

timlash (profile) says:

Info vs. Not

I think it’s time to divide countries into two categories: information based and mis-information based. Information based countries would be: U.S. (I hope), Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, etc. Mis-information based societies would be: China, North Korea, Argentina and EU countries, along with any others where information tends to be centrally controlled. Then information based companies could craft strategies to deal with each group, or decide to avoid the mis-information group entirely.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't put the onus on the search engine

If information is truly irrelevant, outdated, embarrassing, whatever, it’s wrong to try and get search engines to stop listing it.

If you (truly) want to get rid of the information, the European Courts need to paint their targets on the websites containing this information, and give them a certain number of days to remove the information. Once the information is removed, the links in search engines will go stale and disappear. Problem solved.

Certainly if they can get a court order against a foreign entity, they can get one against an EU corporation, no?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Don't put the onus on the search engine

Actually, the problem is that they can’t – it’s perfectly legal for the sites to host the information if it’s not defamatory or inaccurate.

So the only thing vested interests can do, as they’re trying to do here, is to ban people from talking about it. Which has now devolved into banning people from talking about being banned from talking about it.

Of course this isn’t going to stop other search engines. Nor will it stop Google from deciding that dealing with the UK isn’t worth it anymore. It’s just out_of_the_blue levels of stupid out there.

Nomad of Norad says:

I blew a gasket when I originally heard of this ruling.

The moment I originally heard of this Right to be Forgotten ruling, I about *screamed* at my computer screen that this was a DAMN FOOL decision. I am absolutely of the belief that it is going to cause a huge amount of trouble over the next few years, doing way more harm than good, and that a few years later, and for generations to come, they’re going to look back on this one and say “What the fuck where you thinking, judge?!? Seriously!!! What the actual fuck where you thinking?!?” Now we start to see the beginning of WHY this ruling was such a horrendously wrongheaded one.

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