July 7, 2014
Will “Right To Be Forgotten” Be Abused By Rich And Famous?
There is a price for fame; usually it is a lack of privacy and those embarrassing things that the famous do have a habit of sticking around. Take Anthony Weiner, for example. The former Congressman from New York City had to resign in shame after tweeting very explicit photos that no one should tweet! Now perhaps in the future, Weiner could conduct his affairs — and I mean that in more ways than one — via SnapChat, but there are times when Anthony probably wishes the web (and New Yorkers) could just forget.
Well, this brings up some rather shocking news. Just days after Google began to respond to the “Right to be Forgotten” requests, it seems that the search giant has removed links to a BBC blog by Robert Peston that were about his former Merrill Lynch boss, Stan O’Neal.
This wasn’t exactly a new article written by Peston, but one that was published almost seven years ago. The blog is still very much there on the BBC site, but it is Google’s links from the Google.co.uk site that have gone missing into the ether.
Perhaps Mr. O’Neal or someone else requested the story disappear. The funny thing about the way that the Internet works is nothing is ever really gone, and instead of that old post disappearing, it gave Peston a new topic to blog about.
Was this a case of abuse of power? Geoffrey Smith, writing for Fortune, noted “The news has been seized upon (at least by those who haven’t read beyond the headline) as proof that the rich and famous will abuse the European Court of Justice’s ruling to muzzle anyone wanting to expose their past misdeeds or embarrassments. The ECJ had ruled that Google, which has a 90% market share in searches in Europe, must remove ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant’ data from its results when a member of the public requests it.”
However, it could be something else.
Peston noted this week that it wasn’t O’Neal or anyone directly connected to the blog post who requested it disappear, but rather a reader! “It is now almost certain that the request for oblivion has come from someone who left a comment about the story,” Peston wrote on Thursday.
Whether that is “better” or “worse” is left up to debate. Often times, comments need to be closed, as these can turn into flame wars that have little to do with the actual story, but now it seems that anyone who leaves a comment could later request the link to the story to disappear.
It should still be made clear that the rich and powerful, as well as the annoyed comment leaver, can’t really get the story removed. This is still just about removing the links in the search results. However, it is also worth noting that this is the first example where the request for the link removal probably brought the story out to the public. It likely would have been forgotten.
There is some irony here because this whole “Right to be Forgotten” thing started because Spanish citizen Mario Costeja González didn’t want people to find links to the news that he had to auction off some property to pay his social security debt. As a result of his request to be forgotten, Mr. González will likely now forever be remembered “as the guy who wanted to be forgotten because of the news that he had to auction off some property to pay his social security debt.”
I know I, for one, won’t forget Mr. González — just like I won’t forget Anthony Weiner tweeting photos of his privates, resigning in disgrace from Congress and then later derailing his mayoral campaign for doing pretty much similarly stupid things. That’s because sometimes we shouldn’t forget those things.
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