Google Expanding Right To Be Forgotten Rules, Sort Of

streisandThere’s a new saying among the tech-savvy denizens of the Web, “The Internet never forgets.”

It’s an ominous saying. Even worse, it’s actually true.

But in Europe, Google is in the process of expanding the scope of a “Right To Be Forgotten” protocol. In May 2014, the European Union’s Court of Justice determined that EU citizens do in fact have the “Right To Be Forgotten” online. That June, Google introduced an application that allowed people to request certain links pertaining to them be removed from search engine results pages. Now, Google is removing those URLS for all searchers within the EU, even those using international editions of Google.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the webpages themselves will disappear down a memory hole. However, if someone believes a page violates their privacy and contains information that is not relevant to the public interest, then they can request that search engines like Google eliminate those links from results.

Search Engine Land reports that if the request is approved, search engines like Google and Yahoo! will do three things:

  • Drop the links only for the specific search terms requested. They continue to appear for other search terms.
  • Drop the links only for its European sites.
  • Continue to show the links for all searches in Google editions for non-European countries.

For instance, someone convicted of a crime in decades past could request that mugshots no longer appear in searches for his or her name. So far, Google says it has approved about 43% of the requests to be forgotten. That’s more than 1.3 million links from a total 386,038 requests.

“It is very difficult to remove private and/or harmful information from search engines. The Right to Be Forgotten is making this easier, but only in the EU. There is a case to be made that search engines should protect privacy, but once they start making exceptions for some, they will open themselves up to scrutiny from all. Should it be allowed or should it not be allowed? That will always be the issue at hand when it comes to removing information from search engines,” said Chris Wielinski, Managing Partner, Brown Box Branding Dallas.

Some European countries want to go even further; France’s Commission Nationale de l’informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) wants Google to agree to remove results for searchers outside the EU using any international edition of Google, period.

Many SEO experts and proponents of the Right To Be Forgotten say that Google is enabling invasion of privacy on a massive scale. Others believe the changes amount to censorship.

Today, there is no reliable way to permanently ensure a piece of online content is deleted or blocked online. In fact, those who try to remove information from the Web altogether often run into something called the Barbara Streisand effect.

In 2003, Streisand attempted to have aerial photographs of her beachside Malibu mansion removed from the Internet. Not only did she fail miserably, but in trying to censor the photos she only ensured their enduring notoriety.