Should Google be Forced to “Forget” Search Results about People?

If a person asks an online publication to take down a slanderous article from their site, you can probably say it’s justifiable. But what if a convicted criminal requests that all search results about his conviction be wiped off the face of Google? Is that justifiable, too?

BBC reports that Google has received several take down requests after the European Court of Justice ruled that a person could ask them to remove “irrelevant and outdated” links from their search results. The company has not released the specific number of take down requests they have received, but the few examples we do know about are pretty disturbing. There were requests from an ex-politician running for re-election asking to have links to an article about his behavior in office removed, a man convicted for possessing child abuse images asking to have links to information about his conviction wiped, and a doctor who wants to have negative reviews from his patients removed from Google’s search results.

Google being censored

Google commented that the European Court of Justice’s “right-to-be-forgotten” ruling was “disappointing”, and told CNET that they need “to take time to analyze the implications.”

At a meeting with stockholders, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said that “Google believes, having looked at the decision — which is binding — that the balance that was struck [between a right to be forgotten and a right to know] was wrong.” David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, shares the same sentiments. He said: “We think it went too far, and didn’t consider adequately the impact on free expression, which is absolutely a human right.”


Victory for Whom?

EU Commissioner Vivane Reding says that the decision was “a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans,” but how does it affect the general public’s awareness and right to freedom of speech?

Many people (myself included) question this ruling, and among them are Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who found the ruling “astonishing”, and the free speech advocates at The Index on Censorship, who said the court’s ruling “should send chills down the spine of everyone in the European Union who believes in the crucial importance of free expression and freedom of information.” These advocates have also said that “The court has said that an individual’s desires outweigh society’s interest in the complete facts around incidents.”

Another disturbing fact BBC mentions is that although the ruling only applies to search results and involves removing links from the search results pages and not taking down the articles themselves, news publications have been receiving more requests to have articles removed since the ruling.

While I can understand the need to protect one’s own privacy and integrity, I do agree that this ruling is “disappointing”, to say the very least. It’s definitely not as bad as some of the problems with the Philipines’ own Cybercrime Act of 2012, it still denies citizens quick and easy access to information. I do agree that some form of limitations should be in place to protect ordinary citizens from cyberbullying and libel, but decisions like these are completely backwards and counter-productive.


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