Well, well. Just a few days ago, we wrote about the fact that Google was being asked to “forget” articles about the right to be forgotten, under new right to be forgotten requests… and suddenly we’ve been notified that a Techdirt article about the right to be forgotten has been similarly stuffed down the memory hole*. The article in question, is our story from last fall about the NY Times writing about the right to be forgotten requests that resulted in NY Times articles disappearing from some searches. The NYT detailed what each story was about and it wasn’t too difficult to figure out who was likely trying to make sure the articles were no longer linked to their names.
It would appear that one of those individuals similarly has sent in this request — but that’s completely bogus, as we’ll explain in a moment. First up, the notice:
Due to a request under data protection law in Europe, we are no longer able to show one or more pages from your site in our search results in response to some search queries for names or other personal identifiers. Only results on European versions of Google are affected. No action is required from you.
These pages have not been blocked entirely from our search results, and will continue to appear for queries other than those specified by individuals in the European data protection law requests we have honored. Unfortunately, due to individual privacy concerns, we are not able to disclose which queries have been affected.
Please note that in many cases, the affected queries do not relate to the name of any person mentioned prominently on the page. For example, in some cases, the name may appear only in a comment section.
Despite the claim that it might be someone in the comments, that seems unlikely here. Remember, the NYT article suggested who may have made the original requests, and it appears that person was likely now trying to cover up that fact. One of the individuals that the NYT story original wrote about was one Thomas Goolnik. Here’s what the NY Times wrote in its original piece:
One Times article that is being shielded from certain searches in Europe is a report from 2002 about a decision by a United States court to close three websites that the federal government accused of selling an estimated $1 million worth of unusable Web addresses. The complaint named three British companies, TLD Network, Quantum Management and TBS Industries, as well as two men who it said controlled the companies: Thomas Goolnik and Edward Harris Goolnik of London.
The case was later settled. Thomas Goolnik did not respond to messages left via social networking sites.
The NYT suggested that there was a decent likelihood that Thomas Goolnik made the original request. It seems likely that Goolnik made this new request as well. I just did a search from the US on US Google for Thomas Goolnik’s name and the NY Times piece shows up as result number two. If you go to page two, the second item is our Techdirt story on the NY Times story. Yet, if you go to Google UK, neither story shows up when you search on Goolnik’s name.
At first glance, perhaps this seems reasonable. If Google has decided that a lawsuit against a company supposedly controlled by Goolnik is no longer relevant for those searching on Goolnik’s name, then it’s potentially reasonable to delink those results (though I have trouble seeing how the factual information that the lawsuit happened and that Goolnik was associated with it is no longer relevant. It seems abundantly relevant.)
However, the second order censorship here is much more troubling. Because the story is no longer about some long ago event which Goolnik might now wish to have hidden away in the depths. It’s about his actions less than a year ago of likely filing for a right to be forgotten request. It’s that news that both the NYT and Techdirt were reporting on. And that’s not some “irrelevant” tidbit from history. That’s recent, factual reporting.
So I’m at a loss as to how this latest bit of censorship could possibly be legit. And it raises some of the many concerns about the whole “right to be forgotten” concept. Is it really just limited to the supposedly out of date and “irrelevant” information? Or is it now supposed to extend to any reporting on the new and very relevant information about using the whole right to be forgotten process.
There is no official appeals process, other than that we can share “additional information regarding this content” that we feel “Google should be aware of” which may make the company reconsider — though it also says “we can’t guarantee responses.” So it’s just a blind “hey, that’s crazy” and hoping common sense prevails. Or, you know, we’ll keep writing about this story, because it’s newsworthy no matter what the EU Court of Justice thinks or whatever whoever sent the request things, whether it’s Thomas Goolnik or someone else.
* To be clear, the article itself doesn’t fully disappear from Google’s index, it just means that anyone who searches on the name of the person who made the RTBF request will no longer have the article show up under that search. Other searches may still turn up the article.