When Europe told Google that its citizens have a “right to be forgotten” by search results, the stated intention was to let ordinary citizens ask to have embarrassing links about them removed from Google search results. Or put another way, with this new rule the poor Star Wars Kid could finally get some peace in his life by asking Google to remove all links to the infamous video of him swinging a fake light saber around. However, there are some obvious unintended consequences of this “right to be forgotten” rule as it can easily be used by powerful people to censor negative information about them.
BBC News economics editor Robert Peston reports that this has already started happening because apparently Google has removed his 2007 article about former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal from its European search results. The article in question detailed O’Neal’s disastrous tenure running the firm, which got sold to Bank of America after suffering massive losses from overexposure to subprime mortgage derivatives. There was absolutely nothing factually incorrect about the piece, which was a harbinger of even worse things to come in the 2008 financial crisis.
“There is an argument that in removing the blog, Google is confirming the fears of many in the industry that the ‘right to be forgotten’ will be abused to curb freedom of expression and to suppress legitimate journalism that is in the public interest,” Peston writes.
One thing is clear: If the “right to be forgotten” is allowed to expand from private citizens to public figures such as politicians, businesspeople and celebrities, then it will be a massive loss for our ability to find important information. You can bet that Rob Ford and Anthony Weiner, among many others, are watching this case very closely.