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 A search result is not like out-of-date customer database info, yet that’s how the Court of Justice in the EU treated it.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.
Filed Under: europe, free speech, ftc, gdpr, hiding news, news, right to be forgotten, rtbf, thomas goolnik, thomas goolnik thomas goolnik, thomas goolnik thomas goolnik thomas goolnik