Jeff Jarvis on the Right to Remember

I couldn’t agree more with Jeff Jarvis’ take on a European Union court’s decision that there is a “right to be forgotten” which Google must accommodate by removing links to information,

The court has undertaken to control knowledge — to erase what is already known — which in concept is offensive to an open and modern society and in history is a device used by tyrannies; one would have hoped that European jurists of all people would have recognized the danger of that precedent.

One of the problems I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about is the potential collateral censorship of information unrelated to the right to be forgotten.

Here’s a situation I’ve run into quite often. I used to run an extremely popular website devoted to the animal rights movement. I stopped updating it about a decade ago, but the site remained up and indexed by Google.

Occasionally people will email me asking me that I remove or modify this older content. For example, I once wrote a longish commentary on an animal rights protest that included one brief, but stupid comment by a young college student.

Ten years later that person is no longer involved in the animal rights movement, but when people Google his name, the commentary I wrote shows up on the first page of results. Since the person’s identity wasn’t integral at all to the piece, I made a slight edit to the piece to remove the person’s name without affecting the article itself.

But Google can’t do that. They have to decide — do we remove all links to this thousand-word column because of 15 words that are the only place on the Internet that mention this particular individual’s involvement in a protest that the person now finds embarrassing?

And, as Jarvis points out, do we really want Google in charge of making such decisions?


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