Venkat’s Blog Post Unjustly Removed from Google Search Results Due to EU RTBF Takedown
This is not the first time my blog has been subject to right-to-be-forgotten (RTBF) takedowns. See, e.g., this post (scroll down for the updates). But every time the RTBF is applied to my blog, it’s probably a wrongful application of a misguided policy and worth relaying here.
Here is the notice I recently received:
If you can’t read the image, here’s what it says:
Notice of European data protection law removal from Google Search
To: Webmaster of https://blog.ericgoldman.org/,
Due to a request under the data protection law in Europe, Google can no longer show one or more pages from your site in Google Search results. This only affects responses to some search queries for names or other personal identifiers that might appear on your pages. Only results on versions of Google’s search results for countries applying European data protection law are affected. No action is required from you.
What you should know:
1. These pages haven’t been blocked entirely from our search results.
They’ve only been blocked on certain searches for names on versions of Google’s search results for countries applying European data protection law. These pages will continue to appear for other searches.
2. We aren’t disclosing which queries have been affected.
3. In many cases, affected queries don’t relate to the name of any person mentioned prominently on the page.
For example, the name might only appear in a comment section.
4. You can notify us of concerns.
If you have additional information regarding the content of a page that you believe warrants a reversal, you can notify Google. Please note that while we read all requests, we do not always respond. Only the registered site owner can access this form.
Here are the affected URL(s):
Need more help?
• Read about Google’s process for European data protection law removals
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The page in question is a 2010 post by Venkat entitled: “The FTC Dings Twitter’s Security Practices — What Does This Mean for Everyone Else?” The post focuses on Twitter, and it references only three individuals by name (two are Bill O’Reilly and Britney Spears, both Americans). The third person is named in this paragraph:
It seems pretty likely that this person submitted the RTBF takedown. (I can’t repeat the name in this post or it will also get RTBFed). The news relates to a conviction from over a dozen years ago. What is Google’s RTBF “statute of limitations” on criminal convictions? I couldn’t tell from Google’s FAQ or transparency report. So was this removal consistent with Google’s published policies? I don’t know.
Whether or not Google followed its own policy, this removal was unjustified as a matter of information governance. Our blog covered a major news event that remains highly relevant today given the FTC’s continued interest in Twitter and the possibility that its consent decree will be invoked again based on Musk’s post-acquisition activities. The RTBF removal makes it harder for individuals to understand what happened in 2010 and how that event pertains to the FTC’s present-day engagements with Twitter. For example, searching on the convicted individual’s name is a sure-fire way (without the RTBF) to find information about that conviction and its implications; all other search queries are likely to be less precise and have over- and under-inclusive results. By making it harder to find relevant information, the removal thus possibly benefits the convicted individual at the expense of everyone else.
I’m not removing the name from Venkat’s post. It is critical information, even if the blog is just a bit player in the matter. I’m not “appealing” the RTBF removal to Google because I’m not editing the page, so I assume the bots will reject my appeal without any human review. Instead, I am calling attention to this to provide another public example of an RTBF overremoval.
As we are coming up on the decade-long anniversary of the RTBF, it makes me wonder how well we really understand its consequences. Have there been any empirical studies demonstrating how the RTBF has benefited the affected individuals or quantifying the costs for everyone else? If we view the RTBF as a policy experiment in search engine regulation, I think the proponents have the burden to show that it’s actually worked given the near-decade of field data that’s been generated. I’d welcome referrals to research on that front.