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Google, the right to be forgotten, and dogs’ breakfasts

Posted by on July 5, 2014.

googleGoogle is making a complete dog’s breakfast over the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that confirmed it is bound by European data protection laws. You may recall that in May the ECJ ruled that

…the Court holds that the operator is, in certain circumstances, obliged to remove links to web pages that are published by third parties and contain information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of that person’s name.
(see ECJ says Google, and other search engines, must abide by European data protection laws)

This led to much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. No less a luminary than Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, commented, “Americans will find their searches bowdlerized by prissy European sensibilities. We’ll be the big losers. The big winners will be French ministers who want the right to have their last mistress forgotten.” (see: There is no ‘right to be forgotten’; and Google won’t forget you anyway)

It is, of course, total poppycock. Nevertheless, Google’s progress in upholding this ruling does, so far, seem to support the view that the ruling is unworkable. Last week Google removed links to a number of articles in the Guardian. The Guardian reported on Wednesday,

Three of the articles, dating from 2010, relate to a now-retired Scottish Premier League referee, Dougie McDonald, who was found to have lied about his reasons for granting a penalty in a Celtic v Dundee United match, the backlash to which prompted his resignation.
EU’s right to be forgotten: Guardian articles have been hidden by Google

This so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ has made a long-forgotten incident suddenly highly memorable. But that’s not the end of it. In the spirit of transparency, Google notified the Guardian over what had happened. The Guardian objected, and by Friday Google had restored the links. Nothing much had changed except that Dougie McDonald’s attempts to hide his 2010 lies had suddenly become important news around the world.

You might say that Google had proved the point – this ruling is simply unworkable.

You would be wrong. Google has the machinery in place to handle millions of DMCA takedowns, which it does efficiently and without much fuss. It could do the same here. But that would not serve its interests.

Google’s purpose is to demonstrate to the new European Parliament and the new European Commission and the national governments of the member states that the right to be forgotten, an integral part of the General Data Protection Regulation (due to be discussed by the national governments this autumn) should be abandoned or heavily watered down.

Google is not making a dog’s breakfast over the ECJ ruling – everything is going exactly to plan.

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