Google Disappears Techdirt Article About Right To Be Forgotten Due To Right To Be Forgotten Request

from the going-to-dredge-this-up-again dept

Well, well. Just a few days ago, we wrote about the fact that Google was being asked to “forget” articles about the right to be forgotten, under new right to be forgotten requests… and suddenly we’ve been notified that a Techdirt article about the right to be forgotten has been similarly stuffed down the memory hole*. The article in question, is our story from last fall about the NY Times writing about the right to be forgotten requests that resulted in NY Times articles disappearing from some searches. The NYT detailed what each story was about and it wasn’t too difficult to figure out who was likely trying to make sure the articles were no longer linked to their names.

It would appear that one of those individuals similarly has sent in this request — but that’s completely bogus, as we’ll explain in a moment. First up, the notice:

Due to a request under data protection law in Europe, we are no longer able to show one or more pages from your site in our search results in response to some search queries for names or other personal identifiers. Only results on European versions of Google are affected. No action is required from you.

These pages have not been blocked entirely from our search results, and will continue to appear for queries other than those specified by individuals in the European data protection law requests we have honored. Unfortunately, due to individual privacy concerns, we are not able to disclose which queries have been affected.

Please note that in many cases, the affected queries do not relate to the name of any person mentioned prominently on the page. For example, in some cases, the name may appear only in a comment section.

Despite the claim that it might be someone in the comments, that seems unlikely here. Remember, the NYT article suggested who may have made the original requests, and it appears that person was likely now trying to cover up that fact. One of the individuals that the NYT story original wrote about was one Thomas Goolnik. Here’s what the NY Times wrote in its original piece:

One Times article that is being shielded from certain searches in Europe is a report from 2002 about a decision by a United States court to close three websites that the federal government accused of selling an estimated $1 million worth of unusable Web addresses. The complaint named three British companies, TLD Network, Quantum Management and TBS Industries, as well as two men who it said controlled the companies: Thomas Goolnik and Edward Harris Goolnik of London.

The case was later settled. Thomas Goolnik did not respond to messages left via social networking sites.

The NYT suggested that there was a decent likelihood that Thomas Goolnik made the original request. It seems likely that Goolnik made this new request as well. I just did a search from the US on US Google for Thomas Goolnik’s name and the NY Times piece shows up as result number two. If you go to page two, the second item is our Techdirt story on the NY Times story. Yet, if you go to Google UK, neither story shows up when you search on Goolnik’s name.

At first glance, perhaps this seems reasonable. If Google has decided that a lawsuit against a company supposedly controlled by Goolnik is no longer relevant for those searching on Goolnik’s name, then it’s potentially reasonable to delink those results (though I have trouble seeing how the factual information that the lawsuit happened and that Goolnik was associated with it is no longer relevant. It seems abundantly relevant.)

However, the second order censorship here is much more troubling. Because the story is no longer about some long ago event which Goolnik might now wish to have hidden away in the depths. It’s about his actions less than a year ago of likely filing for a right to be forgotten request. It’s that news that both the NYT and Techdirt were reporting on. And that’s not some “irrelevant” tidbit from history. That’s recent, factual reporting.

So I’m at a loss as to how this latest bit of censorship could possibly be legit. And it raises some of the many concerns about the whole “right to be forgotten” concept. Is it really just limited to the supposedly out of date and “irrelevant” information? Or is it now supposed to extend to any reporting on the new and very relevant information about using the whole right to be forgotten process.

There is no official appeals process, other than that we can share “additional information regarding this content” that we feel “Google should be aware of” which may make the company reconsider — though it also says “we can’t guarantee responses.” So it’s just a blind “hey, that’s crazy” and hoping common sense prevails. Or, you know, we’ll keep writing about this story, because it’s newsworthy no matter what the EU Court of Justice thinks or whatever whoever sent the request things, whether it’s Thomas Goolnik or someone else.

* To be clear, the article itself doesn’t fully disappear from Google’s index, it just means that anyone who searches on the name of the person who made the RTBF request will no longer have the article show up under that search. Other searches may still turn up the article.

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Comments on “Google Disappears Techdirt Article About Right To Be Forgotten Due To Right To Be Forgotten Request”

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79 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: First thing I did..

I was wondering whether typos would also be forgotten?

That is, supposing someone searched for “Thomas Golnik”?

Or maybe “Tomas Goolnik”?

Maybe even “Thomas Goolnick”?

Or “Tom Goolnik”? There are many different variations on such a name, and I can’t really see Google forgetting about them all. However, I’m curious what results it will show doing its usual “related results” search if you search for “Thomas Goolnic” — does it show the hidden results for Goolnik, or just things like this post?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: First thing I did..

I just did the same (from Gibraltar), first 2 results are stories on NY Times about their stories being remove from Google’s index. if I change to .com instead of .com.gi, result on Techdirt suddenly appear on the first page of results near the bottom. (Just for reference, I literally highlighted the name above, right clicked and clicked “search in Google”. No other manipulation was necessary other than editing the .gi from the URL on the second search).

Yes, sterling work there gentlemen!

Vic says:

That’s brilliant: if you do not like any article or a blog post – just add a comment to it (using alias, as an option) and just mention your name in that comment. Wait for it to appear and rush to the judge to request complete block on Google search results for the whole post because there is your name in the comments!

Aryan King says:

Re: Re:

Unnecessary or Wont work.

“* To be clear, the article itself doesn’t fully disappear from Google’s index, it just means that anyone who searches on the name of the person who made the RTBF request will no longer have the article show up under that search. Other searches may still turn up the article.”

it helps to read an entire article before commenting about it.

Note: If you are identified in the actual article. Google will still assess and decide if its in the public interest to delist the link in association with your name. However this decision does not prevent the article from showing up in the search results for other people names that were mentioned in the article.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Turtles All The Way Down

The United States proudly decrees that it shall be the law of the land that:
π is equal to 3.
Gravity is a hoax.
Reality is that the Earth is a flat disk.
The sun is only 100 miles above the surface of the disk and moves in a circular motion about the surface.
The disk is on the back of the first of an infinite stack of tortoises.
The final tortoise of that infinite stack is propelled by a rocket at 9.8 meters / second ^ 2 using a perpetual motion machine, thus giving the illusion of gravity.

All contrary information will be subject to a Right To Be Forgotten Request.

DannyB (profile) says:

It never existed in the first place

You cannot say that an article existed when the Ministry of Truth has said that it doesn’t exist and never did exist.

It is your duty to comply with Ministry of Truth requests to remove erroneous historical information which could cause outer party members to come to erroneous conclusions. Look to comrade Winston as your example.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, it’s not. There is erroneous reporting out there that should be buried because of its falsity, like the slanderous reporting done on Brad Wardell. That’s the thing, though- while the idea is sound, the execution isn’t, because it doesn’t require you to prove that it is false information.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No; libel laws don’t cover linking to libelous works in many countries. Canada recently had a case on this that was covered on TechDirt.

Think of this scenario: I live in the UK, and I draw a funny (to some) cartoon featuring a certain prophet. It gets a lot of air time, and many people in many parts of the world REALLY don’t like it.

Someone then publishes an article in Al Jazeera (English) arguing that I am a bigoted anti-moslem and raises some questions and allegations about me mistreating minority group members.

THIS then gets picked up by the NYT (why not?) who makes me out to be the potential leader of some UK movement to deport all people of Arabit descent.

Now, let’s say that the original cartoon was actually meant to be about some other prophet, and was meant to incite some navel gazing in the Islam community. The Al Jazeera article was eventually retracted, once this got sorted out. But the NYT article is still the first search result when my name is put into Google.

Exactly whose libel laws are supposed to cover this?

While the current solution in the EU is generally a bad one, there ARE lots of cases where inaccurate or outdated information, by virtue of being on the Internet, continues to cause real damage for individuals for decades after the fact.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Can we shame people for being stupid / lazy and not doing adequate research?

It’s a slow process, granted, much like the only a theory argument against evolutionary biology, but now whenever someone makes that argument it removes all doubt that they’re exactly the kind of uneducated hick that east Kentuckians are sore about being identified with. Even all the big churches are trying to disassociate with that argument lest folk think their flocks are all really that ignorant.

If you’re the editor for the New York Times and one of your articles has been debunked and hasn’t been corrected, it would be (should be) rather embarassing.

And if you’re a researcher referring to such an article then yeah, serves you right for depending on such an ill-kempt news source.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

There is literally loads of misinformation on the internet. It is one of the best and worst aspects of the net and has been since its birth.

I do not think that anyone should be able to censor this false information. The best thing you can do is ignore it as it will fade away into nothing over time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“No; libel laws don’t cover linking to libelous works in many countries. Canada recently had a case on this that was covered on TechDirt.”

As they should not be. Simply linking to a libelous article should not be illegal unless you know the information is false and you present it as true. You are simply relaying the facts (that, according to this source, such and such is true) and perhaps your opinion of the facts (I believe this source or I don’t). Otherwise any information from any source is potentially libelous and anyone linking to anything maybe breaking the law if it turns out the information is false.

“Someone then publishes an article in Al Jazeera (English) arguing that I am a bigoted anti-moslem and raises some questions and allegations about me mistreating minority group members.”

Which isn’t defamation. Lets make a clear distinction here.

If you make a joke that I don’t like about a certain race and I say you’re a racist based on that joke that’s not defamation. That’s me using a piece of true information, the joke you made, and giving an opinion.

Now if I told everyone that you privately told me that you hate such and such race and that’s not true that would be defamation. See the difference. Defamation deals with the facts and deliberately presenting false facts about someone. Giving my opinion that I think you are a racist based on the fact that you said a joke that I think is racist is not defamation. It’s an opinion. Someone else may interpret the same facts differently and say you’re not racist.

Another example is if I say my opinion, based on the facts, is that OJ Simpson is guilty. Lets assume he is really innocent and didn’t commit any murder. Did I commit defamation for giving my opinion? No. Defamation would be if I told everyone that he privately told me he is guilty when that’s not true. Or to tell everyone that I witnessed him commit murder when I know that’s not true. Giving my opinion based what is true is not defamation.

This is the very basis of freedom of speech. It’s not that we may say things that are uncontroversial and that no one would disagree with, it’s so exactly that we may say things that are controversial that you don’t like.

“THIS then gets picked up by the NYT (why not?) who makes me out to be the potential leader of some UK movement to deport all people of Arabit descent.”

Again, so what? So long as no facts are purposely presented as false they can indirectly spin it as they see fit. and you could counter it with your own speech. and if you really don’t want people criticizing you for your speech then you have the choice of not presenting your speech in the first place. But when you present speech that others may find offensive or disagree with you have no right to expect them to be nice about it and not criticize you in all sorts of ways you disagree with.

Just like some people may consider your ‘funny’ picture presents Mohammad as a [insert epithet here] and they may consider it defamation of his character by your weak standards (though I’m not Muslim) there will be those that will likewise criticize you for your speech that they disagree with. You want the freedom to say things about Muhammad that people don’t like you have no right to expect people not to say things about you that you may not like in return. It’s only fair and that’s freedom of speech. Enough with your double standards.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“there ARE lots of cases where inaccurate or outdated information, by virtue of being on the Internet, continues to cause real damage for individuals for decades after the fact.”

I don’t think anyone is saying otherwise. What I’m saying is that the RTBF is a terrible “solution” to the problem. It does harm to people and society at large while not actually doing much to solve the situation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“or outdated information”

It should be up to the reader to decide if the information is still relevant or outdated. It should not be up to you or the government. That goes against free speech principles and tends towards tyranny where government gets to decide what’s relevant and what’s not.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There is erroneous reporting… while the idea is sound, the execution isn’t, because it doesn’t require you to prove that it is false information.

I don’t think that’s a matter of poor execution. The whole purpose of the law is flawed – in other words, it’s a bad idea. The goal was never to protect people from inaccurate reporting, and they just worded it wrong. The goal was to allow citizens to remove information about themselves that they find embarrassing or unpleasant. That’s not something government should even be trying to do, the problem is not that they didn’t do a good job of it. Maybe I’m just quibbling I don’t know.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: What's the failure mode here?

The RTBF (right to be forgotten) creators didn’t forsee this failure mode. But they can amend it to correct this deficiency.

The failure mode is that an RTBF can not recursively, pre-emptively take down all future articles critical of RTBF requests.

Heck, why not allow a single RTBF request to take down all future articles / discussion forums / tweets / etc…:
* about this RTBF request
* about this particular subject, person, etc.
* criticism such as your suggesting the mere possibility that the RTBF could be abused

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Yet, if you go to Google UK, neither story shows up when you search on Goolnik’s name.
Have you tried adding ‘Right to be Forgotten’ to your search term, Mike? That’s what I did and the results were the Techdirt article from 10/06/2014 in third position, the article I’m commenting on now in second position, and the original NY Times article from 10/03/2014 in first place. The buggers might have a ‘Right to be Forgotten’, but I’m not gonna let that trump my right to know. 😀

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Whats-his-name

??I don’t get your disdain for a non tracking search engine. I’ve done side by side searches and am more than satisfied that DDG delivers solid results, every bit as useful as “The Google??”

To get right down to it, no one should depend on any one search method, but hey, that’s just me.

Anonymous Coward says:

I absolutely love that you write a Right-to-be-Forgotten article about a Right-to-be-Forgotten article that you wrote, and of course you bring in the background to the story which will include the names of the people and their original stupid crap they did that they want forgotten.

Guess what, if you want me to forget it, stop bringing it up and telling me to forget it!

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Scorched Earth

This isn’t really a “right to be forgotten”, it’s a right to be able to apply cosmetics to your online persona. I’m positive no one is rushing to remove good tidbits from history.

So, I propose a common ground: People in Europe can pick a date and all links that show up about them older than that date no longer show up; good or bad. Additionally, the fact that this is happening should be made clear to the user– such as a disclaimer that says “No posts older than suchAndSuch date are being shown.”

Now, it’s a right to be forgotten.

Pronounce (profile) says:

Power Covets the "Kill Switch"

Before the communication medium of the Internet it was possible for the FBI to walk into an office kick everyone out and take all files electronic, or otherwise, and no one other than the few involved would ever know about the incident. The government could spin whatever story they wanted about the reason and the public would just accept the outcome. (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wah_Chang_Corporation) I heard about it, because I happened to be in town at the time, and people naturally talk about this sort of stuff.

It could happen to TechDirt, it could happen to The Pirate Bay, it could be anyone. The site’s DNS confiscated and no way for information to be disseminated.

The movie “Enemy of the State” isn’t as farfetched as some would have you believe.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Do you remember Disappearing Inc

It was the startup that wanted to solve the problem that came with the permanency of emails.

(It’s actually still a problem. Woe be to any company whose intra-company correspondence is subpoenaed and all their candid conversations get dropped into the public eye.)

Disappearing Inc. Had the clever idea of encrypting email with keys they’d hold in trust for a limited amount of time. Usually they’d expire after ninety days (or a present interim).

The only problem is, the clerks who knew this would print out copies and file them for future reference. So they stayed permanent anyway.

Nomad of Norad says:

How long will this stupidity go on?

The moment I heard about this “right to be forgotten” ruling against Google, I about blew a gasket, and I said it was absolutely a damnfool ruling. I also realised immediately that was just about guaranteed to backfire on society in the long term.

I am genuinely wondering how long it is going to be before this “right to be forgotten” ruling gets nullified somehow. I know you can’t take it to a higher court, since the court that made the ruling is AT the top of the court system… but isn’t there a way to change the laws themselves to make the matter than brought us here no longer valid? For that matter, here in the USA, if the US Supreme Court makes a damnfool ruling equivalent to this one, it is possible to eliminate it by, among other things, a Constitutional amendment. What would be the equivalent to a Constitutional amendment in Europe?

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