“Right to be Forgotten” Strikes BBC as Google makes News Story Disappear

by Matt Klassen on July 4, 2014

The recent removal of a BBC article from Google’s European search results has thrust the EU’s controversial “Right to be Forgotten” legislation back into the limelight, as the media outlet has expressed concerns over the implications of disappearing news. But consider this to be simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to controversy and confusion surrounding this ruling, as experts agree that our digital existence will only get “trickier” from here on in.

According to BBC economics editor Robert Peston, the news media outlet was informed on July 2nd that Google had removed search results relating to a 2007 blog posted titled “Merill’s Mess” from all Europe-based search queries. As mentioned, the removal is the result of a ruling in May from the European Union Court of Justice that granted individuals the right to request the alteration or deletion of search results that relate to them.

But with decisions to edit the global media in this way just how long will it be until legislation intended to preserve privacy morphs Google into some sort of grotesque Orwellian Ministry of Truth, the arm of the government (which for all intents and purposes Google is in this case) responsible for whitewashing history to make it a little more palatable for everyone.

I won’t deny that the more I write about advancements in technology and companies like Google that more my brain tends to form a distinctly dystopian picture of the future, but while this case is certainly no different, at least I can say that whatever the “Right to be Forgotten” eventually becomes, it won’t be Google’s fault (at least not initially).

As a Google spokesperson said: “We have recently started taking action on the removals requests we’ve received after the European Court of Justice decision. This is a new and evolving process for us. We’ll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling.”

But consider that while the EU debates over privacy and the “Right to be Forgotten” that closer to home we’re embroiled in a fight for companies to be granted the same rights as individuals, particularly when it comes to Freedom of Religion. Should such individual rights be granted to corporations, how long will it be until they start requesting the removal of bad press from Google searches? How long until the government itself does it?

The irony in all this, however, is that the requests for the removal of search results will likely achieve the opposite of what the legislation intended. As Graham Cluley, security expert at Sophos explains, “We might even see websites created with the aim of collating and archiving links to pages that Google has been required to remove from its results,” said Cluley, “creating a ‘Streisand effect’ of pointing even more eyeballs in the direction of the contentious content.”

Briefly, the Streisand effect, named after singer Barbra Streisand, refers to attempts at suppressing information that ironically result in the wider publication and public interest in that information.

“The ruling seems frankly ridiculous,” Cluley says, “but the doors have been opened and clearly Google will feel compelled to remove more and more articles from its search results…What we’re seeing here is the physical world trying to come to terms with the digital reality we all live in today. It’s going to get messy.” [italics mine]

And it will be messy indeed, at least until the Ministry of Truth and the Thought Police sort things out for us.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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