If you try to search Google for content that falls afoul of copyright laws, Google transparently and openly tells you that some results have been removed. Here’s a notice from a search for “Games of Thrones download”:
As of this week, residents of the European Union are seeing another disclaimer. Here’s what happens when I search for my name (purely in the interest of research, of course. I try not to make a habit of it):
I have not contacted Google asking for anything about me to be forgotten. Neither has captain of the USS Enterprise Jean-Luc Picard, to my knowledge.
Nor indeed Francois Seymat, Stephanie Schmidt, or Anders Larsen, who are all people I made up.
Pretty much every search string that Google identifies as a name now comes with this disclaimer. It is a response to the European Court of Justice, which ruled last month (pdf) that Google must remove search results from individuals when asked, if the results are irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate.
There is a logic of sorts behind Google’s decision. Copyright violations are clearcut: You must prove you are the rights holder; if a result is taken down, Google believes people should know why. This is trickier with the right to be forgotten. If I ask for an embarrassing search result to be removed, the last thing I want is for the whole world to know about it. A curious soul would simply have to go to google.com or google.in, rather than the EU-based google.co.uk, google.fr or google.de, to find the missing result.
Yet plastering this disclaimer all over every result for a search for somebody’s name has little meaning. “Some results may have been removed,” Google says, with a wink. Or, maybe they weren’t. For a company that famously dislikes cluttering up its results with anything other than ads, Google’s aggressive display of this notice can only be read as a subtle up-yours to the European Union.
Google declined to comment.