Is applying ‘right to be forgotten‘ on an individual basis around the world realistic and fair?

That was the third topic on the most recent TWIO episode, and here’s what our guests had to say about it…

ALEX TUCKER: Yeah, tricky. I mean, I guess the concern here is is it going to work out better for people with lots of money and resources who are likelier to have done something big and wrong to kind of buy their way out of internet shame, whether people who are maybe more vulnerable and don’t have such good access to the legal system are less able to access the right to be forgotten sometimes. Quite a tricky subject. I’m not overly familiar with the legalities of it.

DAVID BAIN: I mean, what specifically happened is that France has obviously led this right to be forgotten legislation within the European Union and it’s been passed within there but Google was arguing that it needs to apply these rules within the geography of the European Union. But France is saying that it wants right to be forgotten to be applied to its citizens, no matter where they are around the world. So a French citizen is in the United States, then they would have to see the results that were right for this particular citizen. So obviously it’s very difficult to implement. But if it was possible to implement, then is it right to implement that? It’s so difficult with the globalisation of things to start to apply regional laws to the internet. I’m not sure if that’s sustainable for the future.

ALEX TUCKER: Yeah, on the one hand, as far as the legal system’s concerned I guess you’re trying to apply a local law globally, which is really difficult anyway, but then the internet is a global communication network, so what’s the point in applying the right to be forgotten locally if it’s not applied globally? It’s really quite tricky.

DAVID BAIN: Emily, you do a lot of writing for the web, so would you be concerned if a piece that you’d written wasn’t available to certain people or in certain countries?

EMILY HILL: I don’t think we write anything controversial enough to fall under the legislation, quite honestly!

DAVID BAIN: I wasn’t insinuating that you were!

EMILY HILL: It would be fun if we did but no, most of it’s fairly straight-laced. But yeah, I’m really interested in this topic because the content marketer person in me says, ‘Well this is ridiculous. If something’s out on the internet, it should be on the internet. We should all be able to access it whenever we want and if people don’t like it, tough.’ But actually, thinking it through I think there is a good case to be made for the right to be forgotten on a global level, because all of us do have a fundamental right to a private life. We shouldn’t have to feel that every single silly thing we’ve ever done in our lives is there for anybody to see and to judge and to pull us up on years and years after the fact. So I think you asked two questions: is it realistic and is it fair? I think, is it fair, well sometimes yes, I think it can be a fair thing that we say, ‘Do you know what? I did something daft twenty years ago. I don’t want people still hassling me about it. Can we just get rid of it now?’ Is it realistic? Probably not because how do you draw that line between something that’s silly or something that actually is quite serious and does have relevance, particularly for public figures. Is a public right to know some information about some people and not others? I think it’s a very difficult thing to put into practice but I think the principle is probably a reasonable one.

DAVID BAIN: So Kevin, is it right that certain content is only blocked to certain individuals around the world or is that not something is likely to work long-term?

KEVIN GIBBONS: I think yeah, if you look at it from an individual basis, you’d probably like to see that if you’re using right to be forgotten that means it’s nowhere on the internet. That’s kind of what people’s perception is. But obviously the legal side of rolling it out globally is not quite as easy as that, so I think it has to be per country for those legal reasons but in order for it to work in the way it was intended, it probably should be a global shift. It would make sense to me but yeah, it’s an interesting one and it always puts Google in the position where they’re becoming the judge on what should be allowed and not allowed, and it’s almost no longer an algorithm – it’s them trying to understand these requests and…I don’t know, it’s an interesting position for Google to be in. I don’t envy it at all, to be honest.

DAVID BAIN: From an algorithm to an arbitrator. And what about yourself, Pete? What are your thoughts on this one?

PETE CAMPBELL: The ruling is the ruling and, you know, I took a look and there’s been a quarter of a million requests to take down results, so there’s been a quarter of a million right to be forgotten requests. And, you know, there’s a balance on both sides. So there’s one case where a UK politician had a bad story about him where someone had started a petition trying to get him out of office and Google tried not to remove that, which is kind of fair enough. And then on the opposite there was someone who was convicted but five years later they had an appeal and the conviction was quashed, so Google did remove that. So you’ve got it on both sides.

But Google is using a bit of a loophole really because it isn’t the right to be forgotten at all. If I was a UK journalist and I wanted to write up on a certain person, all I’d have to do is go to google.com and type that same person’s name in and I’d get the same results with the dirt back. So they’re only excluding it from UK or Europe results and all the information is still available on google.com, so nothing’s being forgotten at all, it’s just being slightly hidden. But anyone who wants to dig the dirt, they’ll know where to find it, you know?

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