I first noticed it a couple of days ago: a search for a musician led to a page with a note at the bottom. “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe – LEARN MORE“. For the first time, the impacts of the recent European ruling became clear: Google was no longer my unconstrained source of knowledge (although it clearly won’t go down without a fight).
The legislation, simply put, is a ‘right to be forgotten‘, a right to ask Google to remove specific links to a page that mentions you. Clearly there has to be a reason but, if it’s within the terms of the ruling, down it goes. Where this hits the site of a media outlet or publisher, Google has been letting them know, causing a predictable flurry of articles today from media sites about the whole business.
The BBC reports how one of the blogs by Robert Preston was removed, including in their article the original link and an explanation of why they think it was removed. So the article is still there: i just can’t find it using certain search terms through Google.
This is complex: where does responsibility lie?
If an article is defamatory or libellous, the route to take is through the courts. They provide a publicly accountable and transparent route to redress. But this isn’t a court ordered action: the court provided the framework and now Google has been left to delete links as per requests (there is some speculation that it’s removing every link requested in order to make a point. I would have sympathy if that were the case). But the articles are not being removed.
It’s a tacit admission of how effective and prevalent Google has become to our thinking (our language as we google things) and actions. But you can still find the article through other search engines or links.
In my view, it’s deliberately blinding the search engine to reduce it’s effectiveness without ever addressing the fundamental issue.
What is Google?
It’s our gateway to knowledge: a foundation technology of the Social Age, where our ability to create meaning from pure knowledge is a core skill. Are they Guardians of the truth? No, but they can sure as heck help us find it, unless they’re censored.
Are they to blame for what was written? Surely not. But does hiding that writing away down some dusty alley really address the core issue? If we want a right to be forgotten, perhaps we should address other ways of getting pages or text removed. You can’t just blind the curious.
Are they pioneers? I would say so: a company that accidentally ended up charting the way, exploring new technologies and applications. Someone has to. They’re certainly a digital hub to many of our online activities.
The European court blinding Google doesn’t address any of the fundamental concerns about privacy in the Social Age. It’s a sticking plaster.
When i was doing my postgraduate research, i used to fill out ‘inter library loan‘ forms, pay some money and, around six weeks later, a photocopy of the article or chapter i wanted would turn up.
Today, i’d google it. And i’d hope nobody had tinkered with the results.