Implications of the European Court of Justice “right to be forgotten” ruling of mid-May continue. The decision of the ECJ has had widespread ramifications and has spurred much debate. While some have opted to merely opine on the ruling, others have been more proactive, a new service, Forget.me, has launched to help users file a request for takedown of information from Google.
As of yesterday the number of requests for information removal had soared past 70,000 according to the BBC, so the appearance of a website dedicated to make the takedown process easier is timely and helpful in addition to Google’s own initiative with the development of a simple, straightforward online form.
By now the “right to be forgotten ruling” is well known. A Spanish man, attorney Mario Costeja González, had filed a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Agency claiming that his privacy rights had been violated. Specifically, González was displeased that entering his name in Google’s search engine disclosed, among other things, a legal notice dating back to a 1998 story on his forced property sale to satisfy mounting personal debt. In May 2014, the ECJ ordered Google to erase links related to webpages where the information is “inadequate” or “irrelevant”.
But though Google’s form is simple, it does come with a few caveats and provisos. Hence the launch of Forget.me promises to make the task of information removal easier. The free service takes a user step-by-step through the process, helping them locate the offending URLs and word their claim correctly so it has the best chance of exacting the removal. Thereafter, Forget.me will track the claim while it’s queued with other requests to be “forgotten” and de-indexed. And they will notify you when the offending URLs have been removed. It remains to be seen for how long the service remains free.
Meanwhile machinations in the background proceed. The German government is still mulling over the possibility of having arbitration courts oversee the request/removal procedure as they are concerned that information important to the public will go missing. Also politicians are posturing, gauging the winds of public (read: voters) opinions on the ruling. Each is seeking to gain the high ground in the debate as to whether or not the ECJ decision is tantamount to censorship of public information. In other words, will the opposition be allowed to remove otherwise damaging information from the historical record- information that can impact an election.
The company behind Forget.me is Reputation VIP, the French online reputation management startup whose main focus is on helping individuals and businesses monitor and influence their online footprint. As a manager of image they have to be pleased with the court decision. For some time they engaged in debate as to whether Google is a search engine or a cheery Facebook wannabe that influences news. The following is excerpted from a Reputation VIP “ethics committee” promo:
‘Should we allow algorithmic robots to rank information? They prioritize our traces on the web according to secret criteria and claim to present us with what’s popular. But what’s popular is what comes out more frequently as a function of an all too often voyeuristic attraction. We therefore enter into the arena of the spectacular.’