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 A search result is not like out-of-date customer database info, yet that's how the Court of Justice in the EU treated it.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 https://www.techdirt.com/,

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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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 8:06am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:33am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:40am

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

        Not directly, but indirectly.

        What the hell did you do to get banned from a search engine? Or maybe better put, what did they think you did?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:05am

          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).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:07am

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

            (DuckDuckGo, by contrast, welcomes Tor users by running an onion service—search for "duckduckgo onion" to get the address.)

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Cowardly Lion, 10 Oct 2018 @ 2:06am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:48am

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

        What did you do in order to get banned from google search?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Dirkmaster (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:37am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:24am

    Dear Thomas Goolnik:

    You will not be forgotten.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:34am

      Re: Dear Thomas Goolnik:

      He should also learn what the Streisand Effect is and why repeatedly hitting it with the same hammer doesn't work.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:58am

      Re: Dear Thomas Goolnik:

      TD should simply adjust the urls for the delisted articles so that they get picked up again. Let Goolnik pay whac-a-mole for the rest of his life.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:45pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:01pm

          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...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:30pm

      'Own goal: See: Thomas Goolnik'

      Well, he might have been before he tried burying his history, and then tried to bury his attempts to bury his history, but at this point? Yeah, probably not.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mcinsand, 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:25am

    google search top result

    When I searched for Thomas Goolnik, the top result was the Techdirt September 2015 article. Perhaps we can rename this aspect of RTBF 'logic' as Goolnik's corollary of the Streisand Effect?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    forget this, 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:34am

    The right to be Goolniked

    Goolnik deserves to be a verb now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:01am

      Re: The right to be Goolniked

      Goolnik: verb
      1. To fail utterly
      2. Produce the exact opposite effect attempted through questionable legal means
      See: The Streissand Effect

      In a sentence: "Bob tried to exercise his right to be forgotten but went full retard and Goolniked himself last week."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      verbification, 9 Oct 2018 @ 1:23pm

      Re: The right to be Goolniked

      Turn a noun into a verb today,
      be the next on your block
      to turn a noun into a verb
      so we can mock.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:39am

    The Streisand Effect shines through again... as literally the only thing we know about him now is the only thing he didn't want us to know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TripMN, 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:07am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:55am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:03am

        Re: Blissful ignorance

        Governments have shown us the way for such situations. It is called parallel construction. Get the information, then make up different reasons for your decisions. It works for those government agencies that don't want the defense to know about their surveillance techniques, most of the time.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:09am

    current Wikipedia entry starts

    Thomas Goolnik is a person formerly associated with the company TLD Networks. He has achieved notoriety in a battle over the European "Right To Be Forgotten," in particular whether current articles written about the RTBF are also subject to RTBF.

    And it appears at the top of a DuckDuckGo search.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ShadowNinja (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:33am

      Re:

      Bing is where it's at to look up dirt that RTBF hasn't delisted.

      There was a TD article a while ago that found that so few takedown RTBF requests were aimed at Bing that they didn't even have a process for doing it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 12:42pm

        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).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 3:00pm

        Re: Re:

        Bing it sound too close to bin it for my tastes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2018 @ 2:42pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:13am

    Just going to leave this right here -

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Adrian Lopez, 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:26am

    The right to make forget.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Avideogameplayer, 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:37am

    Maybe all of the EU should be forgotten.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:03am

    TOMA

    Top of mind awareness is a term related to successful marketing. I had forgotten completely about you Mr. Goolik, thanks for the reminder.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 9 Oct 2018 @ 1:20pm

    Dear Google, you're being evil. Stop it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 9 Oct 2018 @ 4:35pm

    Liberal Commie Socialists Conservative Family Values Right-Think

    Wait, which side are we on?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 4:57pm

      Re: Liberal Commie Socialists Conservative Family Values Right-Think

      I don't know, but not that one. No, the other one. No, that one, that one right there, it's as clear as day!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 6:04pm

    '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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dave Cortright (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:59pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Cowardly Lion, 10 Oct 2018 @ 2:34am

    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...

    https://venturebeat.com/2018/02/27/google-has-received-2-4-million-right-to-be-forgotten-url -delisting-requests-and-fulfilled-43/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    REM(RND) (profile), 10 Oct 2018 @ 4:58am

    Looks like someone wants attention. We need www.ThomasGoolnik.com and similar sites full of info on him. We need a hashtag #ThingsThomasGoolnikDoesntWantYouToKnow. This man needs to be made an example of.

    You never go full Streisand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2018 @ 4:37pm

    You'll recall, of course, that prior to the GDPR, there was

    The comma before "there" is not right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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