99.999% of the world’s population has never heard of me. Of the minuscule remainder that have, I know for sure some wish they hadn’t. The same could be said of most journalists. Take Robert Peston as an example. Now I happen to like his stuff, others find him infuriatingly irritating but, hey, you can’t win them all.
Peston is a veteran BBC reporter who is currently their economics editor. He has also fallen afoul of the new ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling of May this year. Imposed by the European Court of justice it states that Google must delete:
“inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from its results when a member of the public requests it.
And a member of the public did indeed request it in Peston’s case. This is the notice he received from Google:
I’ll let Peston explain: (via BBC)
What it means is that a blog I wrote in 2007 will no longer be findable when searching on Google in Europe.
Which means that to all intents and purposes the article has been removed from the public record, given that Google is the route to information and stories for most people.
So why has Google killed this example of my journalism?
Well it has responded to someone exercising his or her new “right to be forgotten”, following a ruling in May by the European Court of Justice that Google must delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from its results when a member of the public requests it.
The ruling stemmed from a case brought by Mario Costeja González after he failed to secure the deletion of a 1998 auction notice of his repossessed home that was reported in a Spanish newspaper.
Now in my blog, only one individual is named. He is Stan O’Neal, the former boss of the investment bank Merrill Lynch.
My column describes how O’Neal was forced out of Merrill after the investment bank suffered colossal losses on reckless investments it had made.
Is the data in it “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”?
Most people would argue that it is highly relevant for the track record, good or bad, of a business leader to remain on the public record – especially someone widely seen as having played an important role in the worst financial crisis in living memory (Merrill went to the brink of collapse the following year, and was rescued by Bank of America).
So there is an argument that in removing the blog, Google is confirming the fears of many in the industry that the “right to be forgotten” will be abused to curb freedom of expression and to suppress legitimate journalism that is in the public interest.
To be fair to Google, it opposed the European court ruling.
But its implementation of it looks odd, perhaps clumsy.
Maybe I am a victim of teething problems. It is only a few days since the ruling has been implemented – and Google tells me that since then it has received a staggering 50,000 requests for articles to be removed from European searches.
It has hired what it calls “an army of paralegals” to process these requests.
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I asked Google if I can appeal against the casting of my article into the oblivion of unsearchable internet data.
Google is getting back to me.
PS Although the BBC has had the notice from Google that my article will not show up in some searches, it doesn’t appear to have implemented this yet.
My blog remains findable when you search Stan O’Neal. So I am beginning to wonder whether it really was him who requested to be forgotten.
The implication is that oblivion was requested not by anyone who appears in the blog itself (O’Neal is the only person I mention in my column) but by someone named in the comments written by readers underneath the blog.
Google won’t tell me, one way or another.
It is all a bit odd.
UPDATE 17:20, 3 July 2014
So there have been some interesting developments in my encounter with the EU’s “Right to be Forgotten” rules.
It is now almost certain that the request for oblivion has come from someone who left a comment about the story.
So only Google searches including his or her name are now impossible.
Which means you can still find the article if you put in the name of Merrill’s ousted boss, “Stan O’Neal”.
In other words, what Google has done is not quite the assault on public-interest journalism that it might have seemed.
Unless, that is, you believe that when someone makes a public comment on a media website, that is something that is voluntarily done and should not be stricken from the record – except when what is at stake is a matter of life and death.
What may be a concern is that this opens the door to a torrent of requests from people who have left comments on blogs and websites now asking Google to, in a sense, strike those comments from the record.
As it happens, the idea that Google has gone a bit over the top in restricting searches to my blog has been made by Ryan Heath, the spokesman for European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes – who I have just interviewed for Radio 4’s PM programme.
Google insists it is simply complying with the relevant articles in the European Court of Justice’s ruling.
You can expect this to grow, to encompass more than just ‘some European searches’. The day is coming when legitimate journalism in both the mainstream and alternative media is going to be stymied by this ruling. After all, what is relevant to me may be irrelevant to you and, therefore, could be deemed a subject for deletion.
What we as writers consider to be in the public interest may be called not to be in the public interest by those who are the subject of the article.
Will articles will be removed until they have been scrutinized and a decision made?
This ruling is yet another nail in the coffin of open and legitimate journalism.
- In five years there may be no references to Obama’s country of birth.
- Killer cops who have walked free from court will be able to remove public domain articles about their crimes.
- As in the Peston case banksters will have articles about themselves removed.
The list is endless; hell, President Obama could argue that half of the decisions he has made are no longer relevant and, therefore, all record of his over-riding Congress via executive orders could be expunged.
What a wonderful way of preventing history being written, removing all evidence of an event.
Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. Wake the flock up!