On 13 May 2014, democracy and human rights in Europe were dealt a heavy blow.
By whom? By the European Court of Justice itself.
What’s it all about?
Many years ago, a Spanish man’s house was foreclosed on. Such things are sometimes made public (or must be made public).
The newspaper digitized their archives and made them publicly available to search.
The man fought back in court against the newspaper that had made this information – surely irrelevant to the public interest after so many years – so easily accessible once again.
He also fought against Google, which brought up this page in a search for his name. As search engines, responding to the call “please make me findable” on the internet, tend to do.
In terms of common sense (which differs significantly from popular option), the matter is now simple:
Either it is against the rights of the individual, in individual cases, that an outdated piece of information is made available to the public, or not.
The newspaper could have been forced to remove the information, black out the man’s name or mark the site in question with a “noindex, noarchive”- meta tag, so that only those in the know could have found the information.
However, it’s been decided that the information should still be accessible to the public via the newspaper, but that Google (as a proxy for “search engine”) may no longer list the link in its search index.
Here is the full text of the ECJ’s verdict: “Personal data — Protection of individuals with regard to the processing of such data”
Now there was –funnily enough – already a verdict from the European Court that clearly permitted hyperlinks to copyrighted material. But since when does a court care about its previous assurances? Or does that only apply to links on text that no longer contains the name of the copyright holder? Or the other way round?
Questions, questions …
But aside from this verdict — in my opinion extremely badly thought out and suggestive of a lack of expertise in all respects — from the honorable Greek judge (he has, after all, made a conscious decision to go against the express recommendation of his own Advocate General, and formulated his verdict as a general blueprint rather than an exception for the aformentioned case), it’s interesting how the popular media have interpreted it:
It’s been labeled the “Right to be Forgotten” — which it’s not.
That’s because “the Internet” – in this case represented by the publisher that continues to make the details of the foreclosure publicly available on its website – is NOT being forced to “forget”.
Only the “signpost” to the information (from the search engine) has been taken down.
The fact that even the Pirate Party misunderstood it so completely says a lot about their internet skills, whereby in addition to the pithy core thesis the negative consequences are certainly recognized.
Publishers’ websites will become a sort of “Undercover Information Club” and, of course, the publishers are very excited about this. In this way they will be able to reclaim their monopoly on information and opinion. A small victory against Google.
A bit short-sighted, I think, because they will lose traffic and people certainly won’t start to subscribe to newspapers again – but in the age of Twitter short-term thinking is of course in fashion.
People are celebrating – not least because of the oversimplistic and grossly misrepresentative treatment of the issue by most of the media – and sending us delete requests like:
“I demand the immediate removal of my name from the internet for the past, present and future.
Yours, Tim Miller.
P.S.: if this is not done within the next 3 hours, you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”
How are we supposed to do that (remove from Yasni – not even Google can remove someone “from the Internet”)?
There could be thousands of Tim Millers out there who painstakingly optimized their sites for search engines, spending a lot of time and money in the process.
The verdict refers to “no longer relevant”, meaning “out of date”, and the “search engines must check carefully, in general, however, the rights of the individual outweigh the right to free expression”
Sounds good – right?
Quite egotistic in our view – we cannot check that.
First, the contents of a search engine are generally NOT generated by hand by a thousand workers in China. Secondly, “outdated” is a relative term (for a child, one year is a long time, but we still want to prosecute the war crimes of past decades, right?) . Also, “relevant” is by definition subjective and in the eye of the beholder (for those who are interested: this is to do with the hypothetical imperative; the goals of different users lead to different relevance).
Vodafone or AT&T might just as well require websites to be taken down regularly if a careful examination does not show that the right of the public to access this website is not outweighed by concerns over data protection, protection of minors, defense against terrorism and a thousand other things.
That’s the way things are done in China; in Germany it’s been discussed and rejected but is now being introduced by the back door in the form of “search engine access”.
This is known as desensitization, and the fact that the German article about desensitization over at Wikipedia was deleted speaks volumes (desensitization is another form of mass-manipulation).
Funnily enough, in addition to the aformentioned delete requests resulting from misunderstanding/ media misrepresentation of the ECJ verdict, we have also been receiving more articulate requests that may actually be inferred from the verdict, for example:
“My neo-Nazi past from 9 months ago is no longer relevant — delete”
“I have already served my sentence for child pornography in the form of 9 hours of voluntary community service – please now delete everything about it from the last 5 years of investigation and news reports”
We’re not the only ones to have seen this.
Yasni aims to promote transparency: with one click you can find out as much about yourself or others as the information-elite, who have access to every archive and research database, knew already.
THAT is equality of arms.
Even without Badoo you can see immediately if your ex created a fake profile for you (and defend yourself against it).
Same if your potential new boss is a scientologist, but doesn’t publicize it.
THAT’s transparency and most people can live with it (the rapist who is out of a job, less so, of course, which is a good thing).
And what is a search engine exactly?
What is the search functionality on a publishers’ site for? Those often have “search” functions and it makes information so much easier to find.
Perhaps a full-text search must be carried out in the future only in the paper archives, or by browsing through all URLs of a website?
Publishers’ opinion on the subject is clear: as a journalist from the newspaper Spiegel said to me “that comes under Freedom of the Press”.
A search function has no claim to journalistic standards … and according to Wikipedia this is a very broad topic 😉
“That’s not what the verdict is about”, those who really understand the ECJ ruling will cry.
Most people don’t understand that, though.
From the individual point of view, anything negative is never relevant and always out of date – that’s human nature (and from the point of view of the hypothetical imperative, which according to the ECJ the search engines now need to convert to the categorical imperative). And the press have also more or less also either not understood or deliberately portrayed it otherwise.
This is the beginning of the end. The first step of undemocratic movements has always been to scrap freedom of speech.
The population is fed censorship disguised as a civil right.
Search engines will now have to be very generous about what they remove. Purely for cost reasons, the amount time spent checking whether things should be removed will have to be kept as low as possible (the alternative: no search engine may be run profitably, which is in effect the same thing).
“Generous”, applied to the wording of a verdict that speaks “regularly in favor of individual rights” is, in plain language: “always, as long as it’s not clearly relevant for the average person and newsworthy for the majority of the population” (meaning: absolutely, categorically relevant).
This is certainly bad luck for François Hollande (presumably), as every famous business person, every doctor (including ones who mess up again and again), every backbencher and Ebay scammer can manipulate their resumé however they want.
Included in the list of names that deserve protection are then of course also Steffen Rühl, Jeff Jarvis, and Sergey Brin (most even have Wikipedia entries), who could now be represented in a completely positive light.
Could. Which, I assume, none of those mentioned tries to.
But since the new ruling means that someone COULD manipulate his or her resumé more than is currently possible, this makes the available information less trustworthy. And that restricts MY individual rights.
Does the ECJ ruling apply to companies?
What about freelancers, doctors, consultants and small businesses? They – right now, on Yasni – claim that the ECJ ruling is in effect and applies to them.
What should search engines do?
We are now forced by the verdict to change the process:
Anyone can censor however he or she wants: only exceptions will be checked (if someone believes that that blocking of a particular link infringes on his or her right to information and freedom of expression).
Freedom of speech will in consequence become a second-class right (the Americans are laughing at us about this – we may laugh at their prudery, but that’s nothing compared to the coming censorship in the EU).
The first port of call for information today is, for the majority of the population, a search engine (ok, in Europe – Google). Earlier, that used to be newspapers, radio and encyclopedias. The elites were able to obtain more information.
Do we want to go back there?
Opinions not shared by the ruling class (also about individual people – surely everyone can think of a name) used to be distributed by flyers. Now, any one of us can start a blog.
Because if Google (or Yasni) is no longer allowed to link to it, it’s as if you are allowed to print the flyers but not distribute them.
Previously, the distributors of leaflets were often caught and executed. Or editors of newspapers sacked (or executed).
Do you realize?
Isn’t this the reason we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press?
And if the gatekeepers of information today are no longer the “old media” but search engines (which are perhaps more neutral than journalists with their individual prejudices)?
The comparison is misleading ?
Didn’t they want to discourage people from reading in the Middle Ages, because the preacher already read out correctly and books were only “imperfect signposts”?
I myself grew up in a dictatorship, in which freedom of expression existed as a basic right – but only on paper.
Now we are on the way back. And rejoice over it (the population has sadly, even during the worst aberrations of history, always done this, the mass-media hurrying ahead or forced to).
We (Yasni) are not Don Quixote but a company with costs and revenues (of course, transparency is a nice philosophy – but we exist to make money like all companies).
Therefore, we will comply with the policy ( I consider the verdict to be politically motivated) set by the censorship constraints.
However, we believe in freedom of expression enough that we will also write:
“We have been censored”
Censorship functionality is online right now. Just click on small icon right beside each search result.