Friday, 4 July 2014

Say No! to the European 'Right to be forgotten' rule

You may have read recently that the European Court of Justice passed a ruling that search engines should not return any results that are inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive (see here for the details).

Note: if someone asks for a search result to be removed because it is 'irrelevant', then surely it cannot actually be irrelevant because is it was irrelevant then they wouldn't be asking for it to be removed! i.e. Catch 22!

The original case was about a Spanish man...
1) What is the case about and what did the Court rule? 
In 2010 a Spanish citizen lodged a complaint against a Spanish newspaper with the national Data Protection Agency and against Google Spain and Google Inc. The man complained that an auction notice of his repossessed home on Google’s search results infringed his privacy rights because the proceedings concerning him had been fully resolved for a number of years and hence the reference to these was entirely irrelevant. He requested, first, that the newspaper be required either to remove or alter the pages in question so that the personal data relating to him no longer appeared; and second, that Google Spain or Google Inc. be required to remove the personal data relating to him, so that it no longer appeared in the search results.

and their decision was...

While the Court ordered Google to delete access to the information deemed irrelevant by the Spanish citizen, it also emphasised that the content of the underlying newspaper archive should not be changed in the name of data protection (paragraph 88 of the Court’s ruling). The Spanish citizens’ data is still accessible but is no longer ubiquitous. This is enough for the citizen’s privacy to be respected. 

So a Citizen can deem some piece of information about himself is 'irrelevant', it is perfectly OK for the information to be present as an article on the web, it is not breaking any law, but we (the public) are not allowed to search for it! Because of the data protection act, the source should not be changed, but the Search sites which can find the source sites should be changed. Surely this is circumventing the data protection act?

Recently a British journalist queried why some of his article 'hit results'  were removed by Google after receiving a letter from Google telling him that they would be omitted in future due to the ECJ ruling and a request from 'some 3rd party' to do so. In other words, someone just filled in a form provided by Google and they removed the search results. They recently reversed this decision (see here).

I simply cannot understand why the entire world internet population (and Google) has not objected to this? The ruling says that even if the 3rd party provider (e.g. Google) has servers outside Europe, the rule still applies as long as the 'service' is made available to Europeans.

The fine for not removing these results is pretty massive (up to 2% of annual worldwide turnover - note the word turnover - not profit or net income but turnover!). And that is just for 1 result being returned when it shouldn't be.

So Google 'detects' a European I.P address and censors our results (if using for instance). So we can look forward to loads of non-European server sites acting as Google proxies for Europeans who want to do Google searches and see ALL results. Apparently, Google have had over 50,000 'please forget me' requests so far!

Note: There is a way around this, use instead of your default Google (e.g. If you go to the main Google page, the URL will be changed to your local country page automatically - however you can use by clicking on the bottom-right 'Use' link:

OR just use DuckDuckGo which is also anonymous and does not take into account who you are or what you have been searching for recently.

Here is another more local case of why this ruling is insidious (and doesn't even achieve it's objective anyway) from my local press! So you can get past crimes that you committed just 8 years ago 'expunged'.

Hypothetical Example:

If a man was taken to Court in 1979 for child abuse but was found innocent (or even guilty!), could he later (how much later?) get the search results for that Court case removed? What if 20 different children or adults accused that same person of abusing them over a 20 year period between 1978 and 1998 but no further action was taken due to lack of evidence - could he also get these results removed by Google and the other search engines? According to the ECJ, he could as they are 'irrelevant'.

Now what if your child accused that man of abusing them yesterday and you did an internet search and either,
a) found nothing
b) found dozens of articles about the same man involved in similar situations

How would that affect your decision about whether to believe your child and whether your child and other children were in danger from this man and whether to go to the Police?

What message is this sending to society? Go out into the world and commit crimes, disappear for a year or so, get the crimes removed from all the search engines and no one will know. You are then free to commit more crimes and only when you are caught by the Police (or your employer bothers to do a Criminal Records Bureau check) will they realise you had former convictions.

Surely this ECJ ruling has been taken too far? If it is allowed to go on, then we can no longer rely on Google to give us accurate web search results. In that case, maybe we should start using a different search engine that doesn't respect the ECJ ruling (or rather, is not afraid of being fined by it)?

If a web site is hosting some dubious content, and it is proved to be breaking the law, then the host site should be prosecuted not the search site - i.e. 'don't shoot the messenger'!