Why Google should not be hiding information

May 21st, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The attempted murder of an entire family, an actor’s affair with a teenager, and tax dodging are just some of the things that people are asking to hide.

The search engine has been inundated with more than a thousand take-down demands in the past few days, triggered by a European Court ruling last week giving people the right to be forgotten.

Half the demands made in the UK are from people who have a criminal past, such as one man who is trying to remove links to information about his conviction for possessing child abuse images, according to a source close to Google.

One person is trying to remove a link that reveals a conviction for cyber-stalking, while another wants links to information about tax offences erased.

In another case, a man who had tried to kill his family wants to lose links to a news report about the crime. A well-known actor is also demanding links to articles about an affair he had with a teenager be removed. And the child of a celebrity has tried to get news stories about a criminal conviction removed.

It is not just criminals and celebrities attempting to hide their past. A former MP seeking re-election is trying to get links to details of past conduct removed. And a university lecturer who was once suspended wants that information taken down.

Businesses are also demanding that certain things are removed. One company is calling for the deletion of links to forum discussions by customers complaining of being ripped off.

The European Court ruling that Google should be made to remove links to old information on some people is another reason why perhaps the UK should leave the EU. It’s a ruling that is very bad for the Internet and freedom of speech – and very good for criminals and fraudsters.

I was listening to a US podcast on this case and what was interesting is that it was from a man who had his home repossessed a decade ago and this got reported in his local newspaper. His court case was asking both the newspaper and Google to remove the story.

The court said that the newspaper can’t be forced to remove the story, but Google (and other search engines) should hide from search results if it is ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive’. 

Apart from the insanity of Google having to somehow judge what is inadequate, irrelevant or excessive, the ruling rides over the fact that Google only indexes material that publishers say they can index. If you don’t want it to appear in Google, then you can mark your page x-no-archive.

The newspaper that published the story is the entity that should decide if they want to keep the story online. And as a compromise they could have kept the page on their website but marked it x-no-archive. But that is a decision for them, not Google.

I often get people e-mailing me asking for some deletion or amendment of a post or comment that names them, as it comes up very high on Google. I consider each request on its merits, and usually will agree. But that is my decision as a publisher – and if I decide not to – it is outraegous that in Europe Google would be forced to second guess me. Google should be a search engine – not a Judge.

Opinion remains divided on the ruling, with EU Commissioner Viviane Reding saying it was a clear victory for the protection of personal data, while Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales says it was one of the most wide-sweeping internet rulings he had seen.

I agree with the great Jimmy Wales.

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20 Responses to “Why Google should not be hiding information”

  1. tas (625 comments) says:

    How on earth can the court rule that the newspaper cannot be forced to take down the article, but Google must censor it? You need to spend years in law school having reason and common sense hammered out of you for that to make sense.

    It also places are completely unreasonable burden on search engines. Google may have the resources to deal with these thousands of requests nowadays, but, if this ruling were in place in 1998, Google may have had to shut up shop as their handful of employees couldn’t handle all of those requests. Compliance costs for doing business online have taken another jump.

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  2. itstricky (1,851 comments) says:

    Criminal offences is a tricky one though, isn’t it? If someone does their time they are presumed innocent again. A vastly searchable Internet through time that destroys anonymity makes that statement false.

    The way back machine kind of makes some of this law redundant anyway. Presuming they can keep up with storage demands.

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  3. peterwn (3,275 comments) says:

    Will it work? Or will it be like the sorcerer’s apprentice who cast a spell on a broomstick to carry buckets of water which he could not cancel. The apprentice tried to deal with the problem by chopping up the broomstick, but each piece grew into a broomstick complete with bucket and the place got flooded out.

    All the European court has succeeded in doing by trying to curb Google is to encourage the development of a multiplicity of search engines that will be effectively out of reach of EU courts.

    In any case the Google search engine must be well into its ‘natural’ life cycle and will probably soon start waning.

    It is rather like Megaupload or Mega. The devil in not really in Mega[upload] itself but the multiplicity of the ‘search’ websites pointing to it.

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  4. Fentex (986 comments) says:

    Google does not publish these things it is asked to hide. It is a search engine that locates where these are published by other people.

    Google appears to try hard to satisfy users of it’s service by returning the most relevant sources fitting queries made of it and as such owes no one any duty but it’s users for the quality ad accuracy of those efforts.

    If authority has a problem with what is published online, perhaps because it is libellous or inciting violence, they should address the publisher and not Google.

    Google made a mistake in bowing to Chinese demands it censor itself. One hopes Google has learned not to do it again.

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  5. Elaycee (4,393 comments) says:

    itstricky: If someone does their time they are presumed innocent again

    Bollocks.

    A criminal is not ‘presumed innocent’ again… once they have served their time, it just means they have completed their term of punishment – as decided by the Courts. They will always have a criminal record.

    And if details are available via Google (or any other search engine) – unlucky.

    Sorted.

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  6. Ed Snack (1,883 comments) says:

    itstricky, if the ruling applies to Google I’m sure it will extend to wayback as well. It is a very odd ruling, fuelled I would think because Google is American and hence, to “cultured” Europeans, untrustworthy and ripe to be imposed upon.

    In a practical sense I cannot see how it can be made to work effectively. Does Google have to action each request individually, and this ruling only applies to Europe presumably, what if it is visible in the US and a European uses a proxy to view…crazy stuff.

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  7. Bob R (1,377 comments) says:

    The EU is becoming increasingly totalitarian, it’s no surprise they want to curb the internet in any manner possible.

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  8. gump (1,650 comments) says:

    @Ed Snack

    “itstricky, if the ruling applies to Google I’m sure it will extend to wayback as well. ”

    ————————

    The wayback machine isn’t a search engine. You have to know what site or page you are looking before you use it.

    It also doesn’t do business in the EU, so it can’t be regulated under European laws. Google can be regulated by the EU because it maintains commercial entities in Europe that carry out business in the member states.

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  9. gump (1,650 comments) says:

    @Ed Snack

    “Does Google have to action each request individually, and this ruling only applies to Europe presumably, what if it is visible in the US and a European uses a proxy to view…crazy stuff.”

    —————–

    Google is already filtering the results for searches conducted in a number of countries.

    It isn’t restricted to Europe and it isn’t a new thing.

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  10. lolitasbrother (701 comments) says:

    I am happy that New Zealand has a seven year clean slate policy.
    That is my criminal record such as it was is lost to investigators now. . Some of Farrars examples are pathetic.
    For instance a university lecturer wanting past poor conduct removed, Farrar would refuse that..
    Like Paul Buchanan who was sacked for personal matters but fabricated on his discipline against a student, by the absurd Waikato university.
    Well Farrar you are getting weak, and your column also.. Minor offences should be forgotten.
    Your medals of Quixote and the goodness they bring are rescinded now, you are becoming junk

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  11. Kimble (4,440 comments) says:

    Hey Google, Boko Haram called. They want everything written about them removed from your search results.

    Oh, and Cunliffe keeps calling asking for last weeks policy blunders and idiotic gaffs to be removed as well.

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  12. itstricky (1,851 comments) says:

    A criminal is not ‘presumed innocent’ again… once they have served their time, it just means they have completed their term of punishment – as decided by the Courts. They will always have a criminal record.

    David Garrett probably says otherwise.

    Is there not some degree of rehabilitation to punishment? Is that not the idea? Is the idea to persecute for the rest of one’s life? Is that the same approach that you would apply to a naughty child? You broke the window – you will suffer for the rest of your life… …and I will remind you of it.

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  13. itstricky (1,851 comments) says:

    It also doesn’t do business in the EU, so it can’t be regulated under European laws.

    Yes, I should have realised that, sorry.

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  14. Elaycee (4,393 comments) says:

    lolitasbrother: I am happy that New Zealand has a seven year clean slate policy. That is my criminal record such as it was is lost to investigators now

    I’ve got bad news for you….

    Under Clean Slate legislation, your record / your conviction is not “lost” at all – your conviction just goes behind a portal that can only be accessed by ‘authorised’ bodies – Police, DIA etc. But if you wish to be employed by (examples only) a casino, a bank or even the Police, your full record will be revealed.

    But when you tick the little box on the Arrivals Card as you enter Australia, USA etc., or you apply for a Passport / Visa etc, make sure you declare ALL convictions – regardless of whether they are covered by Clean Slate or not. Because if you decide to tell porkies and try to hide your convictions (all of them), you can be turned back.

    Brilliant, eh?

    http://www.justice.govt.nz/publications/global-publications/c/criminal-records-clean-slate-act-2004-english-corp-060

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  15. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    @ Elaycee (4,152 comments) says:
    May 21st, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    Actually, it pays to enter into that lane anyway when visiting the States etc. When you get to the front of the que, just say you’re not sure if you have a conviction or not, you had a traffic ticket a few years ago. Of course they let you go, and you’re processed twice as quick as anyone else!

    But yes you are right, a clean slate has limitations and doesn’t make convictions disappear.

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  16. Elaycee (4,393 comments) says:

    @itstricky: David G. has responded to comments about his past on many occasions, but I’m not sure whether you’ve been equally open….

    But there is no presumption of ‘innocence’ for past faux pas. A person may ‘do the time’ or ‘pay the price’ for past indiscretions, but the conviction remains for life. No different if someone has a DIC – that also remains on a person’s record for life.

    Is that the same approach that you would apply to a naughty child? You broke the window – you will suffer for the rest of your life… …and I will remind you of it.

    FFS…. you’re kidding, right?

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  17. nasska (11,575 comments) says:

    ….” Is that the same approach that you would apply to a naughty child? You broke the window – you will suffer for the rest of your life… …and I will remind you of it.”…..

    For better or worse there’s not much chance of that itstricky.

    ……”Your record lists criminal and traffic convictions and sentencing from court appearances. It does not include Youth Court charges.”…..

    Ref: http://www.justice.govt.nz/services/criminal-records

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  18. ross411 (842 comments) says:

    Judith (6,155 comments) says:
    May 21st, 2014 at 5:24 pm
    Actually, it pays to enter into that lane anyway when visiting the States etc. When you get to the front of the que, just say you’re not sure if you have a conviction or not, you had a traffic ticket a few years ago. Of course they let you go, and you’re processed twice as quick as anyone else!

    I’ve stood in line with the sheep and slowly moved forward, and every time there was someone in the special queue they’d stop putting us through that employee’s booth, making it take longer. But hey, if you feel you should be able to benefit yourself at other’s expense, by taking advantage of loopholes.. then that’s your right I guess.

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  19. gump (1,650 comments) says:

    @Elaycee

    The USA doesn’t care about convictions as such. They only care about whether you’ve served time in jail for a criminal offence. Crimes without a custodial sentence don’t need to be disclosed.

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  20. Elaycee (4,393 comments) says:

    gump: The USA doesn’t care about convictions as such. They only care about whether you’ve served time in jail for a criminal offence. Crimes without a custodial sentence don’t need to be disclosed.

    Good luck with that theory, because it’s not the case at all.

    Anyone with a NZ conviction (including anything covered by Clean Slate) cannot use the online ESTA application but has to apply for a Visa via the US Embassy. And the applicant has to provide the US Authorities with details of ALL convictions.

    Travelers With Criminal Records: Convictions for certain crimes may make you ineligible to travel to the U.S. The only way to know for sure if your criminal record makes you ineligible is to apply for a visa. Only a consular officer can determine your visa eligibility. Please note that New Zealand’s Clean Slate Act does not apply to U.S. visa law. If you have a criminal record and attempt to travel without a visa, you may be refused entry into the United States.

    http://newzealand.usembassy.gov/non-immigrant_visas.html

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