The internet is an elephant
Problem is, it can't forget. Google has two UK trials dates in its diary, both on the same issue. The tricky concept of the 'right to be forgotten' coming head to head with the equally slippery notion of the 'public interest'. Let's explain.
Two anonymous 'businessmen' are pissed that their historical wraps on the knuckles (conspiracy to account falsely and conspiracy to intercept communications) pop up whenever potential employers or partners Google them. Oh-oh. The EU backs the legal right to be forgotten – that is, that people can assert their right for certain information about themselves to be removed from certain places – namely Google search results – in order to preserve their privacy, provided this information is not in the public interest. Whatever that means. The original record stays intact, but the road by which to get to that information is up for demolition.
You almost feel sorry for poor old Google. I mean, they never asked to be the all-encompassing gatekeepers of the world's information (did they?) and all these court cases on the guardianship of that info must be hella tedious when Alphabet have better things to do. So far Google have granted about 43% of the 2m removal requests it received under the right to be forgotten, but obviously not all of these have reached court. Is Google reeeally the one to be making these calls? How transparent are they about how they make these decisions? Maybe we should separate the search engine from the find engine...
However you define 'public interest' (I'd probably want to know if the local vet had previously sold Ketamine), it's hard to have a 'truth' in one country and be different to another – these search engine bars would only operate in the EU. These battles with Google represent a clash of privacy cultures, see the legal argument Google is having with the French asking for a global wipe of search results under the right to be forgotten, which somehow doesn't seem like it will fly in the U.S...
The trickiest thing is that this right seems to be implicitly about a right to forgiveness, as removing search results works something like a digital pardon. For these businessmen, their rehabilitation is central to the case. In the context of everything that is happening at the moment, with the #MeToo movement breaking ground on the front lines, the internet's ability to record historical misdemeanours of ranging degrees of seriousness suggests that we need some kind of practice for dealing with what has been done in the past (stuff we just wouldn't know about sans internet), and some way of judging who is deserving of forgiveness (and who isn't). Weird right? A sensitive moral issue like this decided by Google? Isn't Google just a box you ask questions?