Sunday, November 23, 2014

Will "the right to be forgotten" come to the US?

There is an interesting column on p. A15 of the Washington Post, Saturday November 22, 2014, p. A15, by Richard J. Peltz-Steele, “A second chance online.”  The online title is more telling, “The ‘right to be forgotten’ online is really a right to be forgiven,” link here
The article notes that Google and other search engines (like Bing) are inundated with over a thousand “forget me” requests daily in Europe, and the EU court did not give any guidance as to how to implement.  It also says that the policy is in force only in European countries, and does not currently affect searches done in the US.  It is not completely clear that US search engines never will decide to prune some US search results, for whatever reason they decide suits their business models.  This already happens with “content quality” and that concept could extend someday to older news stories or older postings; otherwise, will search engine results expand infinitely, like the Universe?

The article gives an example with the case of killer Robert Castree, where news stories were removed from European search results because of another person identified in news coverage, when he wanted to be forgotten.  The whole idea of “forgetting” started in Spain with a man humiliated by a 1998 debt.
In fact, If you search for Robert Castree here in the US, you find many results, and a Wikipedia article.  In fact, that’s one idea that would defeat the European concept.  Could the EU order Wikipedia to take some coverage down?  So far, the order seems to apply only to “true search engines”.  What about a flat site like my “”, that has its own indexing. Could I be ordered someday to honor this in Europe?  I have no capacity to change content according to country of destination.  The site has been blocked in some authoritarian countries, but Urchin stats shows plenty of traffic in those countries anyway, especially Russia, China and Islamist countries.
A more relevant point for me might be that sites like mine (the older flat sites like or its predecessor tended to magnify persons who might have remained obscure but who had become important in my own world slice. That was particularly true when my I put my DADT-1 book online in the summer of 1998, one year after paperback publication, and allowed it to be searched.  Now Google Books does the same. There was a case in early 2006 when someone, in an offhand conversation in a bar, mentioned his concern over finding a reference in a footnote in my book whenever he “Googled his name”.  I changed the HTML copy be just initials (it was actually an attribution for a 1996 press release) but it could remain online in any other third party book searches.  (This happened shortly after my substitute-teaching debacle in late 2005 over my web screenplay, so it was a but spooky at the time.) There were two other instances (in 2001 and 2003) when individuals asked that their name be removed, and in both cases the circumstances were unique or unusual enough to warrant doing so.  All of this took place before “online reputation”, as Michael Fertik defined it, became an everyday concept, and it all happened before Facebook (and two of the incidents even before Myspace). 

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