Since the Court of Justice of the European Union declared search engines to be data controllers, “right to be forgotten” supporters and advocates of harsher copyright enforcement have been busily trying to justify their positions by pointing to each other and saying “if you can do it for them, you can do it for us”.
First came the BPI’s chief executive Geoff Taylor, who told The Guardian newspaper that if Google could remove all relevant search listings in response to a “right to forgotten” request, they ought to be able to obliterate piracy.
Critics say that Google drags its feet over carrying out measures such as stripping pirate websites from its search results, yet the move to allow users the “right to be forgotten” proves it can take serious action if it is forced.
“It’s ‘Don’t be Evil’ 101,” says Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the music industry’s trade body, the BPI. “The principle at stake here is when you know someone is acting illegally, you shouldn’t continue helping them by sending them business.”
— The Guardian
More recently, EU commissioner Viviane Reding claimed that the fact that Google can deal with millions of copyright takedown requests proves the feasibility of the “right to be forgotten”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, Reding said that “there are relatively little numbers of requests” to take down information owing to the newly granted right to be forgotten, but that there are “some million requests to take down material because of copyright questions.”
“So you see,” Reding continued, “this is a small thing as compared to the copyright things. It is possible to handle the copyright question, so it should also be possible to handle the takedown requests on personal data questions.”
— The Guardian
The reality is that both processes suffer from some fairly fundamental problems. Both takedown requests and “right to be forgotten” requests rely ultimately on human verification to determine their validity, while the volumes of requests make this costly or impossible. Both are subject to well documented abuses, be they algorithmically generated takedown requests or egregious privacy claims.
Both methods can be easily utilized but neither truly solves the problem. Both are games of whac-a-mole. Just as certainly as infringing content will show up somewhere else when sites are shut down and links removed, so will the negative content that European citizens are asking to have de-listed. As Google’s webform notes, “we may inform webmaster(s) whose content is removed from our search results as a result of your complaint.”
– Tim Cushing, Techdirt
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