Why Google should not be hiding information

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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