With the recent EU ruling that Google must ‘amend’ some search results at the request of ‘ordinary’ people in accordance with their “right to be forgotten” [BBC article here] we’re initially seeing responses to indicate this is a fairly positive move.
It’s been stated that if linking to an article of “public interest” then it will not be removed from a Search Engine’s results. But who decides what is public interest and what is offensive to an individual? Surely there is some serious potential for abuse of this policy?
Of course, de-indexing this “irrelevant” and “outdated” data could potentially be a useful aid for the average man: Removing search listing results to a particularly embarrassing episode in their life, possibly trying to cut down on access to their data for spam communications. Making access to personal data relating to them restricted for say, online marketing.
The real repercussions are actually terrifying.
This is in fact censorship: Plain and simple.
Forcing Google to stop indexing specific results, is like forcing the shop that sold you the newspaper to stop selling that paper, rather than pursuing the newspaper that published the story. Surely the fault lies with the websites publishing the articles not the search engines indexing them?
Some Scenarios to Consider:
What about bad online reviews? Can those be censored? Should an individual who does not provide a quality service or fails to deliver products after taking a consumers money have the right to censor access to bad reviews that may alert internet users to their poor standards of trading stating that it is “irrelevant” or “outdated” – Or simply reflects them in a bad light?
Potential employees could effectively hide any ‘bad press’ about their previous misdemeanors: Imagine if they had previously stolen from their employers and articles had been published in the press: Would their new potential employers be blinkered to the fact that this individual has a record of company embezzlement because all articles relating to that act are inaccessible?
What about celebrity gagging orders? Does this mean that celebrities not only have the right to silence reports about their personal behaviour or pending court cases, but also find search engines libel for indexing the results, not the people who made the statements?
Cover Ups for Offenders
One example of this might be that a family of a dead celebrity paedophile could request that Google de-index all search results relating to their relatives crimes but leave references to any stories relating to their charity work and ‘good deeds’. Removing access to information pertaining to the wrong doings of an individual would means results would be skewed in favour of an inaccurate portrayal of that person.
What about online gore or sexual content? Is that the fault of Google too? If Google and other search engines will be responsible for censoring content that they may not be aware of then are they to blame for it being there?… It is not physical, flesh and bones people who run these search queries when a search is typed in, it is algorithms… If this ruling extended to any content that offended someone personally who was searching then is it the job of search engines to be on top of blocking this kind of content? They merely find relevant results to the search query being run. THEY DO NOT CREATE THE CONTENT.
Creating a False History
Censoring Google is like burning history books and creating false accounts of what has actually happened. In fact, it’s like removing sections of books from the library so they can no longer be read. The history happened but there is no longer access to any record of it. It extends far beyond the average user who may fear their personal history is being made public, it provides a platform of accountability that ‘shoots the messenger’ delivering the bad news or unwanted results. It is terrifying.
In a perfect world, this may be a workable, but we do not live in a perfect world. The websites publishing the articles or sharing an individual’s personal data are actually the sites at fault. With the internet being the way it is, it never takes long for the latest gossip to spread like wildfire but with this proposal, access to the truth would restricted… It would still be there but a Search Engine would be blackballed from linking to it.
Effectively, true information could be censored if it offended someone, somewhere and the truth would no longer be out there. Free speech would be a thing of the past. Or it would at least, be inaccessible.