Turning inner space into outer space

July 3, 2014

Google walks the fine line between 'forgetting' and censorship

New “right to forget” legislation in the European Union is quickly turning into a muddle.

The law gives citizens the right to request that Google remove links to information about them considered “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.”

On the face of it, that seems like a good idea.

But with Google controlling 90 per cent of the search market in Europe, the removal of a link to a story is akin to deleting it.

The Guardian, BBC and Mail Online are among news organizations that have had posts on their websites forgotten.

“It is the equivalent of going into libraries and burning books you don’t like,” Mail Online publisher Martin Clarke said in an AP story.

The Guardian called it a “challenge to press freedom.”

BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston said Wednesday the removal of his 2007 blog post, which was critical of Merrill Lynch’s then-CEO Stan O’Neal, means “to all intents and purposes the article has been removed from the public record, given that Google is the route to information and stories for most people.”

To its credit, Google is being cautious as it feels its way through this minefield.

“This is a new and evolving process for us,” Google spokesman Al Verney said Thursday. “We’ll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling.”

When the law was first proposed, I thought it would be a good way of moving past unflattering photos or references to youthful hijinks. There’s no need to have things like that haunt you for the rest of your life.

But, as usual, when government intrudes on our freedoms, the result is unintended consequences — and a mess that will have to be cleaned up.