The European Court of Justice has just told the world that they are clueless, inept and embarassingly short of knowledge on how the internet works. As you're almost certainly aware, they have ruled that Google is a data controller” under the 19-year-old European law on data protection, and as such could be required not to display links to information that is “inadequate, irrelevant...or excessive”.
There is no world in which any of this makes sense at all. However, let's break it down into various elements, because it's more fun that way.
Do people have a right to be forgotten? There's plenty of material out there on people which is less than complimentary, and much of it is also wrong. A lot of that data is also historical in nature, but unlike incorrect information that just sits inactive in a book or journal, this information can still remain very active. Take the example of Max Mosley, who was involved in a scandal some time back. For most of us, that particular episode is already forgotten, but if you do a search on Google you may (and I stress the word may) see that Google is giving you auto suggest options which relate to the incident. I'm not seeing them on my searches as you can see:
However, other people may. Now, there's not an awful lot that Google can do about that, since Google reflects what the rest of the world does, and if lots of people write about a particular issue, it's going to pick up on that. The real issue is that the content is already out there and will continue to remain out there, whatever Google does. Does Mr Mosley have a right to some sort of protection? Sure he does, but that protection needs to come from him talking to the original publishers of content, not the people who are providing it. Besides, when I see that material, I can also read the entire story and make up my own mind. So whose rights are more important - his to try and make it more difficult for me to find publically available information on him, or mine, to allow me to easily find that information? You may well have some sympathy with the man, which is fine. How about when we look at other people who are requesting that information about them is removed from Google's indexes, such as people with a criminal past, drunk drivers, sex abusers and so on. Do they have the right to be forgotten, or do I have the right to know that they might be living across the road from me? A lot of the people requesting the 'right to be forgotten' are doing so because of their criminal convictions. In the course of every day life many of those people will have the right to have their conviction 'spent' under current UK law, but that's a rather different issue. So the first point - who has the stronger right?
The 'right to be forgotten' isn't a right at all - since they are NOT being forgotten, just not indexed by Google. It would perhaps be more sensible to call it a 'right to censor material about me that I don't like without actually contacting the original publishers of the data'. Moreover, Google intends to indicate in search results if material has been removed as a result of this requirement. Now - if you do a search for 'Phil Bradley' and Google tells you that it has been required to remove material, isn't the first thing you do going to be to go to another search engine? Or if you can't be bothered to do that, go from google.co.uk to google.com since the ruling only applies to the UK version of the search engine.
Why just Google? As we all know, there are plenty of other search engines out there (and if you need them, I've got a list of over 200 search engines), and although Bing is attempting to create a right to be forgotten feature, that's 2 down, 198 to go. And what about new search engines? Who is going to monitor those? No-one, as far as I can tell. So the ruling doesn't actually work on these grounds either.
Next up - who makes the decision on what is in the public interest, as opposed to an invasion of privacy? It's not going to be the courts. Google is going to create a panel who will sift through these requests, and it's got a number of high profile people on it, but they're not going to be wasting their valuable time doing it day after day. It's going to get passed onto some lowly Google employee who makes decisions based on... well, I'm really not sure. Who is going to represent the public interest? What is the 'court of appeal' over this? Deafening silence.
So we've reached a stage when the European Court of Justice is handing over control of information (or at least partial control) to an American corporate. In what world does this make any sense at all?
So there isn't a single sensible reason for this ruling. This will not protect people, either the ones who want to be forgotten, or anyone else. It's ineffective because it doesn't appear to relate to all search engines, and it doesn't even cover all Google search engine variants. It's an abrogation of control to an unaccountable, unelected body. Insane.