If there’s one fact about this age of Google, it’s that certain information never goes away. That means if you ever did something bad or even had just your name tied to something bad, it’s a part of your online footprint. Forever.
That is changing now that U.K. courts have passed ‘Right to be Forgotten” laws which force search engines to de-index certain information, in certain circumstances.
On Thursday, Google began advising major U.K. media players such as the Guardian, that articles they’d be censoring from search results. Users will see a warning at the bottom of search results that advise some results have been removed in accordance with data protection laws.
The court ruled that results stemming from searches for a person’s name could be removed if found to be irrelevant or excessive. Google has confirmed receipt of over 700,000 removal requests. The Guardian and Daily Mail have called the ruling censorship and urged publishers to fight back against article removal.
The ethical debate over Right to be Forgotten is an interesting one. While everyone has a right to privacy and people certainly shouldn’t be able to tarnish your character through lies, but where do we draw the line? What place do uncomfortable facts have in the public domain?
Some argue every place; where others, such as U.K. courts, believe too much information is bad information.
One lawyer says Right to be Forgotten is equivalent to burning the books. Kind of like the old paper shredder running late night at the office.
Proponents say we have the right to control how you’re seen more than Google results allow. Online brand management is an increasingly important aspect of one’s resume. Some employers won’t schedule an interview if you don’t first check out well online.
Stories removed from Google search results varied in topic. The name of a Scottish soccer referee was removed from results, as was an attorney facing charges. No reason was given to the Guardian for the removal of those specific articles from Google results.
For pieces of journalism, clearly written in the interest of the public, the new law stands to pollute the credibility of Google. The company somewhat clumsily rolled out the changes this week, calling it a learning process.
The company is just following the new rules and had no say in the European Union’s ruling. Those in Europe with a sketchy online appearance, now have legal precedent to stand on when clearing their good name.