HiddenfromGoogle.com "a misplaced attempt to put the ‘right to be forgotten' debate in the hands of the public"

By Danny Palmer
16 Jul 2014 View Comments
No Google

A website that lists search results censored by Google has been labelled "a misplaced attempt to put the ‘right to be forgotten' debate in the hands of the public".

The European Court of Justice recently ruled that people can request that links containing information they don't want to be searchable be removed from Google's search engine.

Further reading

However, hiddenfromgoogle.com, the website set up by US web developer Afaq Tariq, contains a list of censored search terms - mostly names of individuals who are likely to have been the person to have made the request - alongside the link that's been censored under ‘the right to be forgotten'.

Tariq describes the website "as a way of archiving the actions of censorship on the internet", adding: "It is up to the reader to decide whether our liberties are being upheld or violated by the recent rulings by the EU."

Search terms currently listed as censored include ‘Dr. Adam Osborne', who is brother of Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

The 'lost' links are sourced from tipoffs made by members of the public, but Christian Toon, head of information risk at Iron Mountain, warns that the very nature of the website is likely to trigger the Streisand effect - where publicising that information has been censored will only alert people to become more interested.

"The speed in which information now travels around the globe is staggering, and still expected to be transparent, on demand and without censorship so websites such as hiddenfromgoogle.com are certainly going to trigger the ‘Streisand effect'. As we have already seen with super injunctions, when secrets are being obviously kept from the press and public, a hunger to seek the truth will prevail," Toon said.

However, Toon believes the website "appears to be a misplaced attempt to put the ‘right to be forgotten' debate in the hands of the public" which could lead to badly sourced entries or victimisation.

"There seems to be no way of monitoring the true facts of any of the reported stories, and allowing the public to make the decision on what information is drawn attention to on these sites puts individuals or groups at risk of being victimised by those who want to draw attention to a particular piece of information," he said, going on to argue the problem represents a clash between the freedom of speech and identity management.

"While some information may not reflect the truth about someone or something, and therefore that person may want to suppress it, there is other information that many feel should be easily searchable because it is in the best interests of the public - for example criminal offences."

Toon added that hiddenfromgoogle.com is subject to the same legislation that is enforced by the right to be forgotten, but suggested that because the website is based in the US, it might be that nothing can be done about it.

"In the same way that Google has been deemed to be non-compliant with the right to be forgotten, this website falls foul of the same legislation. The site owner is based in the US but he is delivering content to EU citizens and therefore the ‘right to be forgotten' still applies - but would this even be enforced?"

The European Court of Justice's decision on the right to be forgotten came after a case was brought against Google by a Spanish man who claimed that an auction notice on his repossessed home - easily findable using Google's search engine - infringed on his personal privacy.

The court ruled that people have the right to request information about them to be removed from web pages, as long as it can be deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant".

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