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5/13/2014
03:43 PM
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Google Ordered To 'Forget'

European court rules Google must remove "irrelevant" links in certain situations to comply with EU law that gives people a right to be "forgotten."

surprised that it differs so dramatically from the Advocate General's opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyse the implications."

Last summer, Advocate General Niilo Jääskinen made a filing in the case arguing that requiring search engines to suppress legitimate, lawful information would hinder freedom of expression and would amount to a right to censor.

The Open Rights Group, a UK-based advocacy group, echoed this concern on Tuesday in a statement. "If search engines are forced to remove links to legitimate public content, it could lead to online censorship," the group said. "This case has major implications for all kind[s] of internet intermediaries, not just search engines."

In a Twitter post, Simon Phipps, president of the Open Source Initiative, suggested that the "right to be forgotten" is a misnomer. "It's not a right to be forgotten," he wrote. "It's a right to punish those who dare to remember. That's why it's broken."

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales expressed similar sentiment, noting that this case is about journalism and not just Google. "When will a European Court demand that Wikipedia censor an article with truthful information because an individual doesn't like it?" he asked in a Twitter post.

Jääskinen's assessment of the legal issues points to the problem Google and other information intermediaries face by republishing data found elsewhere: Google seeks the protections of a publisher without the responsibilities of a publisher. To push back against the limited "right to be forgotten," he notes "the service provider would need to put itself in the position of the publisher of the source webpage and verify whether dissemination of the personal data on the page can at present be considered as legal and legitimate for the purposes of the [right to be forgotten]."

Google clearly doesn't want that responsibility, but it should have some responsibility. At the same time, individuals shouldn't be free to suppress accurate information. Rather than a "right to be forgotten," the EU should give more thought to the phrase uttered by survivors of the Holocaust and other tragic events: "Never forget." History should not be legislated.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
5/14/2014 | 12:48:57 PM
Only one winner ...
and that's the lawyers who will no doubt spring up and offer to have inconvenient or embarrassing information removed.
dbrisco863
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dbrisco863,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/14/2014 | 11:44:37 AM
Right to be forgotten
It seems odd to me that in an age where one of the more horrific tales of technology run amok is the erasure of ones complete identity that we seem to be embarking on the first steps of doing exactly that. Re-writing history or making deletions in it is a risky venture at best.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2014 | 6:29:08 AM
Re: The European Court of Justice ??!!
@Gary_EL: Yes.  For instance, on InformationWeek! ;)
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2014 | 6:28:25 AM
Re: Rethinking
The difference with those mug shot companies and similar businesses is that their whole business model is a form of extortion -- whereas Google and Wikipedia are simply (relatively) evenhanded arbiters.

Online reputation management goes a long way.  Maybe you can't erase something from the Internet, but maybe you can at least bury it to Page 12 of Google Seach Results.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2014 | 6:26:23 AM
It's not just about old debts and mug shots.
Can you imagine the fodder this would provide the Holocaust deniers if Hitler was alive today -- to express his "Right to be Forgotten"???
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2014 | 3:13:19 AM
The European Court of Justice ??!!
The expunged information will show up on some site based somewhere where no one cares about the European Court of Justice. I just wish I were their advertising salesperson.
Andrew Binstock
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Andrew Binstock,
User Rank: Author
5/13/2014 | 9:27:24 PM
Hard to know what to think
I'm really torn on this. My head says "Really?!" while my heart says "It's OK."
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
5/13/2014 | 6:12:05 PM
Re: Rethinking
It can be tough to erase legitimate mistakes from online records, including news accounts, but the line could get slippery fast. This NYT article a few months ago prompted change by some companies charging people to "erase" mug shots.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/13/2014 | 6:03:17 PM
Our individual information has a long tail
This decision can only be implemented selectively, not uniformly and fairly, because of the way the court has decided the case. It means some information on indivuals will be suppressed, some not, depending on circumstances that will bear little relation to a fair process. We have to get used to the fact that information on individuals is going to have a long tail. The court is trying to take resonsibility for evaluating the worth of the information out of the hands of the reader and putting it in the hands of a legal process. I don't trust the evenhandedness of the outcome.
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
5/13/2014 | 5:09:37 PM
Rethinking
Interesting. My initial reaction to the headline was "This is great!" But after reading the article, I see that there's a more nuanced argument here, with potentially significant implications. 
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