Thomas Goolnik Gets Google To Forget Our Story About Him Getting Google To Forget Stories About Thomas Goolnik

from the sorry-thomas dept

You’ll recall, of course, that prior to the GDPR, there was a big case against Google in the EU that created, out of thin air, a “right to be forgotten” (perhaps, more accurately, “a right to be delinked”) saying that for certain classes of information that showed up in Google’s search index, it should be treated as personal data that had to be delinked from that user’s name as no longer relevant. This never made any sense at all. A search result is not like out-of-date customer database info, yet that’s how the Court of Justice in the EU treated it. Unfortunately, with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) going into effect earlier this year, the “right to be forgotten” was even more officially coded into law. We’ve noted recently, there have been a few attempts to use the GDPR to delete public information on American sites, and now we at Techdirt have been hit with what appears to be just such an attempt.

This particular attempt goes back to some previous attempts under the pre-GDPR “right to be forgotten” setup. We need to dig into the history a bit to understand the details. You see, soon after the floodgates opened on delinking names from Google, we wrote about an article in the NY Times discussing how five of its articles had been delinked via RTBF claims. It was not 100% clear who had made the requests, but we did highlight some of the names and stories, including one where we called the removal “questionable.” It involved a NY Times article from 2002 about a legal action by the FTC which went after a group of companies allegedly run by a guy named Thomas Goolnik. The companies — TLD Network, Quantum Management and TBS Industries — were accused of “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” by selling domains that did not exist at the time (specifically, they were trying to sell domains using top level domains that did not exist, including .sex, .bet, .brit, and .scot.)

The FTC eventually settled with Goolnik and the companies with some significant concessions:

The settlement bars the defendants from making misrepresentations about the usability of domain names or about the nature of any product or service they sell over the Internet. The settlement also bars the defendants from failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose material limitations or conditions on the usability or functionality of domain names. The settlement bars the defendants from selling customer lists. In addition, the defendants will turn over as much as $300,000 being held in merchant accounts for consumer redress. Redress payments will be available to consumers in the UK and other countries, as well as the United States. The settlement also contains record-keeping requirements to allow the FTC to monitor compliance with the court’s order.

This seems like information that is very much in the public interest. Someone, however, doesn’t think so. There are many indications that that “someone” is Thomas Goolnik. Ten months after our article talking about the NY Times article about Google delinking their story about Thomas Goolnik’s legal troubles with the FTC, we received a notification from Google that our article about the NY Times article had also been delinked under a RTBF request. So we wrote about that. A week later, we received a notice that this new article had also been delinked via a RTBF request.

In that post, in September of 2015, we were extremely clear to anyone from Google looking over that post that it was not about Goolnik’s earlier activities (which we still believed were in the public’s interest), but specifically about Thomas Goolnik’s current actions — specifically an action to abuse the RTBF process to try to hide the fact that he was credibly accused by the FTC of unfair or deceptive practices, leading to a substantial settlement. Since Google had already memory holed two of our articles on the subject, we even included “a special note to the Google RTBF reviewer reading” that post:

We are purposely not mentioning the details of the original story that Thomas Goolnik would no longer like to be associated with. Even if you believe that information is no longer relevant, this article does not discuss that. Instead, it discusses newsworthy and relevant information about Thomas Goolnik today, which is that he’s filing a series of right to be forgotten requests to Google on any story that mentions his attempts to use the RTBF to delete his history. The original EU ruling clearly states that that when a search engine is evaluating a RTBF request, that it should see if the data is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.” This is not about irrelevant information from the past. This is about what appears to have happened this week or last.

Anyway, on Wednesday, three years later, we received… a new notification, that that third article had now been delinked under a RTBF request.

To: Webmaster of,

Due to a request under data protection law in Europe, Google can no longer show one or more pages from your site in Google Search results. This only affects responses to some search queries for names or other personal identifiers that might appear on your pages. Only results on European versions of Google are affected. No action is required from you.

Who could possibly want to make such a request? There would be substantial evidence that it is Thomas Goolnik. While Google does not name who specifically made the requests, the fact that every post we’ve ever had mentioning Thomas Goolnik (minus this one… so far) ends up getting delinked in Google provides pretty strong clues that Thomas Goolnik is continuing to use highly questionable RTBF claims to try to delete news coverage of his history and his recent actions.

Once again, if you are a Google RTBF reviewer there is no reason under either the original RTBF rules or the GDPR right to erasure rules that this article should be delinked from anyone’s name, but especially Thomas Goolnik’s. It is about public, relevant, newsworthy information concerning Thomas Goolnik, including his ongoing attempts to use the right to be forgotten to erase a substantial legal settlement he had with the FTC concerning “unfair or deceptive practices” which makes its continued existence very much in the public interest.

And, if you’re Thomas Goolnik reading this: stop it.

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Comments on “Thomas Goolnik Gets Google To Forget Our Story About Him Getting Google To Forget Stories About Thomas Goolnik”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Not forgetting, but don't really care too much

Beyond the silliness of the GDPR and the whole RTBF thing is the concept that Google ≠ The Internet. One finds things, if they want just by using a different search engine.That we find a number of articles about Thomas Goolnik is not surprising, including a couple from Techdirt, what is surprising (or maybe expected) is who else thinks Thomas Goolnik is not only ignorant and unreasonable, but the whole RTBF is ignorant and unreasonable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not forgetting, but don't really care too much

Does Google still link a Chilling Effects page, which gives the affected URLs, when they remove a result? (I’d check but I’m banned from Google Search.)

DuckDuckGo isn’t a global company in the sense that Google and Microsoft are. If Goolnik tries European law on them they might be able to ignore it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Not forgetting, but don't really care too much

Google’s been banning Tor users for years, from certain products including Search. Most exit nodes anyway; very rarely it works, occasionally there’s a captcha, usually there’s nothing but a statement saying I’ve been blocked for “suspicious activity” or for being a robot (as I saw when following your link).

Cowardly Lion says:

Re: Re: Re: Not forgetting, but don't really care too much

Getting banned from Google is easier than you might think.

12 years ago, an IT consultant I was working with wrote a scraper that harvested company details off of Google – he got through about 2500 scrapings when Google caught on and blacklisted him. It took a grovelling apology and a promise to cease & desist to be reinstated.

Dirkmaster (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not forgetting, but don't really care too much

Right now, Duckduckgo’s first link is a Wikipedia article about Thomas Goolnik that has all the gorey details about Goolnik’s problems with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the FTC, and subsequent uses of RTBF requests.

Interestingly (or not so, if you know how Duckduckgo actually produces search results), it’s also the first link on Google. So if Goolnik is trying to hide his shadey history, he might try having a swing at that.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Dear Thomas Goolnik:

That would be counter-productive and actually help him, as it would allow him to claim that he’s merely trying to make sure that the original ‘right to re-write history’ was upheld.

By instead making the articles only about his repeated attempts to hide the original order, without actually mentioning it the focus is kept on what he’s currently doing, and if anyone is interested enough to look into what he’s trying to hide so badly they can do that on their own.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Dear Thomas Goolnik:

By instead making the articles only about his repeated attempts to hide the original order,

Should have been:

By instead making the articles only about his repeated attempts to hide reporting on(and reporting on the reporting on) his attempts to hide the original order’s targets,

The guy’s double/triple/quadrupling down really makes describing what he’s doing a pain…

TripMN says:

Circumventing the EU thru VPN

If I were a business-person in the EU, I’d be damn sure to do all business intelligence searches thru a platform other than Google, or at least make sure I’m on a VPN in another part of the world. Knowing that anyone you are doing business with could be memory-holing key info about their past history would make me look into it way more carefully.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Blissful ignorance

That may not be as good an idea as you think. The problem is that you may find information that, as a business, data protection and privacy law prohibits you from using to make a decision. It could be better to stay in blissful ignorance. The delinking from Google already strongly argues against relevance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Bing is run by Microsoft, who have offices and datacenters all over Europe. It’s basically luck that they’re not getting targeted for RTBF yet. When they are, they’ll have to comply. Unlike smaller search engines with no international subsidiaries/domains, who could ignore European rulings with little consequence (with help from US law, incl. the SPEECH act).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Current Wikipedia entry

By 13 Oct 2018 the current Wikipedia entry has shrunk to about a third of its previous size with an anonymous edit from an IPv6 address. The nature of the FTC settlement has been recharacterised. I wonder who would want to do that. Of course this is Wikipedia, so all the previous versions are still there for anyone who cares to look.

I think the next step is Wikipedia administrators choose an appropriate verson and protect it against changes. It’s harder to get Wikipedia to forget than to get Google to forget.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'That burned down, fell over, THEN sank into the swamp.'

I wonder if he thinks this is actually going to work at some point? That if he just keeps demanding that articles about his attempt to de-link articles be themselves de-linked that eventually it will stop being worth it to write up another article about his latest attempt to re-write history in his favor?

I certainly hope so, with how much bad news there is these days it’s always nice to have a funny article like this crop up filled with guilt-free schadenfreude, and I’d hate to think he’d stop at some point, taking that opportunity away.

Dave Cortright (profile) says:

Here's a script to run on your site…

Get a RTBF request, generate a new GUID to append to a “new” article that quotes the original article in full, and appends the new information that a previous version of the article was requested to be memory-holed on such and such a date. You can put them up as fast as they are taken down.

For added fun, spawn 2 new copies on each take down. Let’s see how fast Goolnik articles can take over the internet.

Cowardly Lion says:

Google, expenditure and tax

From the link below: Google revealed that it has received 2.4 million de-indexing requests following the “right to be forgotten” (RTBF) ruling in Europe and has acted on 43 percent of them.

Assuming Google spends say 1hour processing and evaluating each request, that equals 320,000 working days. If that’s costed at a day-rate of €400, it means that Google has spent a whopping €128,000,000 processing RTBF requests. Man, if I were Google I’d be asking for a tax rebate. oh, wait…

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