Saturday, 19 July 2014

New Website Tracks Progress of 'Right to Be Forgotten'

When the European Court of Justice ruled that Google has an obligation to honour an individual's right to be forgotten, it set in motion a process tasked with accomplishing what many think is impossible.  Google now has to remove all references to online content from its European search results when requested by content owners.  Although it might seem like a simple task, it is anything but simple.

The search engine giant claims it has received 70,000 requests since the ruling came down this past May.  It says it is now receiving about 1,000 requests per day.  If you are interested in finding out how the search giant is doing, a brand-new website known as “Hidden From Google” is tracking Google's progress.  It is not going so well at this point.

The site currently shows only about 15 pieces of content that have been successfully removed from European search results and verified by outside sources.  It is not that the content has been removed from online publication, but rather it does not show up in Google's European search results.  Any user who wants to find the material can do so using the US version of the search engine.

From Google's perspective, the court's ruling is nearly impossible to fulfil to the letter of the law.  The automation employed by the company's search algorithm means removals cannot be carried out without direct human intervention.  Someone actually has to view the material in question and make the changes necessary to remove references.  Even at that, Google has got things wrong a number of times.

Google officials say they are opposed to the ruling even though they are complying.  They maintain that their only responsibility is to handle the management of how search engines find material.  They do not believe it is their business to decide what is appropriate for listing and what is not.

Precedent-Setting Action

If nothing else, the Hidden From Google website proves that what is happening now is precedent-setting.  The world's largest search engine is tasked with being the judge, jury and executioner where search results are concerned, irrespective of website owners and the information they decide to publish.  Anyone involved in IT services and online marketing knows what an impossible task this is.

For example, the original author of a controversial blog post may want that post to be forgotten because it has damaged his or her reputation.  However, simply removing the reference from European search results does not change the fact that the blog post remains readily available online.  What's more, the website owner will continue to promote the post as long as it benefits his or her traffic.  This will undoubtedly generate more links Google will have to find and remove from its search results.  It is a never-ending battle that Google can never win.

It seems as though the European Court of Justice did not think this through before issuing their ruling.  If the right to be forgotten is one we truly need to preserve, perhaps it should be implemented at the site level rather than through search engine results.

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