All The Worst People Would Like the Internet To Forget Them

Friday, May 16, 2014 - 03:17 PM

"The Right to Be Forgotten" is an idea that you should be able to redact information about yourself from internet search results.

It seems like a crazy thing to propose - (Isn't it just a more poetic name for censorship? Who would decide who gets to be forgotten, and why?) but a few governments have instituted some version of legally mandated forgetfulness, most recently the European Union. 

Now, the BBC is reporting that the first applicants who'd like material removed from the internet have shown up, and they're archetypal examples of people who you'd want to know (factually correct) bad information about. For instance, a guy who got caught possessing child abuse images. Or an ex-politician making a comeback who wants an article about his bad behavior in office nixed. Or a fellow who tried to kill his family.

The promise of Right to be Forgotten laws is that they'll legislatively fix something about the internet that's essentially unfixable - it's a place where gossip and outrage proliferate, whether or not their targets deserve it. But the solution they offer -- for governments to decide which speech is accurate or worthwhile, is a silly one. 

(via the indispensable techdirt)


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Comments [6]

pbLA from Los Angeles

Agree with PJH that this is a willfully obtuse post. I am also really surprised this is "On the Media", one of my favorite shows. As point of fact, the original case was brought to the EU court by a Spanish citizen who could not get old reports of a foreclosure taken down off the internet. It was an ordinary citizen, who continued to be harmed and could not get them taken down. For the writer to omit this fact, and then pull out cases of heinous murderers and say that is the category of criminal who will want their name to be cleared, is the not only myopic, but fear-mongering, and completely out of touch with the current impact of unbridled google access to background records in the U.S.

Here in the U.S., we have the most criminalized population in the world, with the most felony records of any country, across the board. By and large those are not celebrities, nor mass murderers: they are people with mug shots and media reports of arrests often for drug crimes. Mostly poor who had public defenders. Some of the information on Google is true, much of it not precise, and all provides no context as to what has happened to that person since, whether they have been rehabilitated in the many years since any crime happened. Of course the latter information about rebuidling one's life would never be on the internet, but the crime will be on Google, forever. And a google search is the cheapest fastest way to exclude someone from employment. It happens all the time, to many people I know. It is *exceedingly* difficult to get third party links taken down. If only every journalist that is up in arms about this European Court decision would only put commensurate time into the role Google searches play in keep non-violent victimless former prisoners with criminal records from getting jobs...the power of background checks to permanently exclude many, mostly poor people who want a second chance.. well then maybe we would have an active press, pressing for answers for those most disenfranchised.

May. 17 2014 03:26 AM
David Maloney from Rio Rancho, NM

This world and whatever recordkeeping it has will forget us all too quickly. Be happy and content you've left a mark at all. But leav a good mark if you can.

May. 16 2014 09:33 PM

I have some bad live journal poetry from high school that I'd like the Internet to formally forget.

May. 16 2014 06:19 PM
Edward from NJ

If Google ends up having to comply in the end, they will certainly include notice that results are being omitted. They did so when they operated out of mainland China and complied with government censorship: "In accordance with local laws and policies, some of the results have not been displayed." When the Church of Scientology used the DMCA to force Google to block results, they redirected those links to a copy of the DMCA takedown notice.

If someone requests their search results be censored, the censorship notice would essentially be an invitation to assume the worst. It's like saying, "Hey I did something really messed up...and...well...use your imagination." (or a US-based proxy server).

Ironically, there are probably now a lot more web pages that include the fact that Mario Costeja Gonzalez lost his house 16 years ago due to financial difficulties. Look here's one more!

May. 16 2014 05:27 PM

PJH, that's awful.

But the EU law allows for takedowns of factually correct information. So if you wrote about the person who slandered you, they could ask for a takedown, even though what you wrote was true. Like, they could ask for the comment you just made to be delisted from search engines, if it included their name. That's bananas.

May. 16 2014 04:01 PM
PJH from CA

This is a willfully obtuse post, and I'm kind of surprised! A few years ago I had the experience of being slandered on several websites, with my full name attached to a bunch of crazy claims and pornographic images. (Basically, somebody unstable was trying to get back at me.) I got things removed from their source websites but dealing with Google was like banging on a wall for an entire year before their results essentially refreshed themselves and the offending links were gone. I'm not willing to sacrifice my good name for this "information wants to be free" nonsense.

May. 16 2014 03:55 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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