Google thinks not, and will defend itself in a UK court next month, as two people have asked it to take down links to info about crimes for which they’d been convicted.
Neither crime is required to be disclosed to potential employers, according to a UK law passed in 1974 that stipulates offenders shouldn’t “have a lifelong blot” on their lives (it’s intended to ease their rehabilitation). They’re minor, but still crimes.
A Google spokesperson cites the company’s hard work to comply with every law, but that it also won’t remove search results “that are clearly in the public interest,” and that it “will defend the public’s right to access lawful information.
Information is the fuel that drives not only commerce but every relationship, and more transparency is always better than less. A society that provides individuals with the relevant information necessary to make informed decisions is better off, full stop.
So who decides what’s relevant?
What if you’re a first-generation immigrant to the US, but want to avoid bias and prejudice and be viewed (and judged) as an American? What if you took six months off from work or school to “find yourself,” and what you discovered is far more salient to who you are than what someone might think about your journey?
What if victims of crimes want to hide from perpetrators, or people who’re threatened wish to escape notice? And yes, let’s say you broke the law (or had any case heard by a court, including divorce), does it mean that those specifics should tag you forever?
I get it. These are facts that help make us who we are today. We are products of our circumstances, and we’re responsible for our past actions.
But shouldn’t we be allowed to be who we want to be, not just who we are (or were)?
Google’s defense of the public interest is disingenuous, to say the least: its business model is to index information, serve it to users, monitor their actions, and then sell those insights to advertisers. Its interest is to maximize the resources for its search queries.
Information, and people who use it, are its raw materials, so it’s simply defending its access to fuel.
Hiding, or simply wanting to ignore aspects of our past can mean we hope to mislead others, but some of those facts can be misleading themselves. Social mobility has always been based in large part on our ability to earn new jobs and roles in our lives, and not be entirely beholden to what we once were (or what others might judge us to have been).
The concept of “radical transparency” blows up this mechanism entirely, which is what makes it so radical. The premise that it’s inherently good is just daft.
The upcoming court cases should be a reminder that rights are bestowed by sovereign governments, not tech companies, and that citizens, not consumers, have the right to decide what we want to know, and what we want to forget.