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‘Half of writing history is hiding the search results.’

July 16, 2014

SerenityI’m not the company’s biggest fan, but after the recent ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling in Europe, I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Google.

The case concerned a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, who wanted Google to remove a link to a 1998 newspaper auction notice for his repossessed home – after he had unsuccessfully tried to have the auction notice itself deleted.

The ruling by the European Union’s court of justice has not only compelled Google to remove the link to the notice, but also to delete ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant’ search results when a member of the public requests it. According to Google, in less than two months since the ruling it had received over 250,000 requests from more than 70,000 people.

Some commentators have argued that the Internet has fundamentally changed how we should view privacy, even suggesting that the Declaration of Rights be changed to state:

Every citizen has the right to remove their own words, images and videos from all digital records
(see ‘The right to be forgotten is fundamental in the digital age’, 14 July 2014)

I agree that each of us now has a much more extensive public record of our personal history than we have ever had before, but why should we be treated any differently to the ‘great men’ of the past? (As in Thomas Carlyle: ‘The history of the world is but the biography of great men.’) Now, we all have a part to play in the world’s history. Twenty years ago, we would have been looking up old newspaper articles in the library on microfiche – just because it is so much easier to search for information in the digital age, should that change how we limit the availability of that content?

The generation of kids today know only too well that anything they do or say online is there permanently – it’s only us in the older generations that see privacy in the digital age in a different light.

Also, who is comfortable with the fact that Google – a commercial enterprise – has been given the onus of determining what is in the public interest when evaluating each of the ‘right to be forgotten’ requests it receives?

The line from Joss Whedon’s movie Serenity ‘Half of writing history is hiding the truth.’ could now be re-phrased as ‘Half of writing history is hiding the search results.’

(Pictured above: ‘Still of Adam Baldwin and Nathan Fillion from Serenity (2005)’, © 2005 Universal Pictures via IMDB.com)

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