The European Union’s new law giving people a “right to be forgotten,” which requires Google to remove links to information about them, is having exactly the effect its critics predicted: it is censoring the internet, giving new tools that help the rich and powerful (and ordinary folk) hide negative information about them, and letting criminals make their histories disappear.
Exhibit A: Google was required to delete a link to this BBC article about Stan O’Neal, the former CEO of Merrill Lynch. O’Neal led the bank in the mid-2000s, a period when it became dangerously over-exposed to the looming mortgage crisis. When the crisis hit, Merrill’s losses were so great the bank had to be sold to Bank of America. O’Neal lost his job, but he exited with a $161.5 million golden parachute.
There is nothing incorrect in the post. In fact, it’s a rather mild account of O’Neal’s incompetence during the period. O’Neal was forced out of the company after he began discussing selling it without informing his board of directors. This is ancient, well-established history. Having it removed from Google doesn’t undo the fact that it happened. But there is a new generation of 25-year-old investment bankers who perhaps do not have a firm grasp of the 2007 crisis that reshaped banking globally. Their grasp will be ever more slightly weaker due to this new law.
“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,” BBC writer Robert Peston says. Six links to stories in The Guardian not related to O’Neal have also been removed.
Also, Business Insider previously noted that deletion requests were granted for a former politician who wanted to remove links to a news article about his behavior when previously in office — so that he can have a clean slate when running for a new position — and a man who was convicted of possessing child sexual abuse imagery.
So pedophiles can take advantage of this law as well.
Forget.me, a company that expedites Google deletion requests, tells Business Insider that it is fielding 250 requests per day. Here’s a breakdown of what is being deleted from the world’s greatest search engine:
But the EU law is terrifying for another reason: the entire process is so non-transparent that the consequence for the individual is even worse than what the courts intended.
This excellent discussion from Danny Sullivan at MarketingLand.com shows that even when Google removes links, new ones pop up in their place. And Europeans can get the full, uncensored internet by leaving Google.co.uk and searching at Google.com.
Article originally published in Businessweek.com