“Now Monsieur Google you will show the world only what we want them to see. Or else …”
The simple truth is that the French, and by extension the EU, have it in for Google, allez savoir pourquoi! These days the search giant seems to be on the receiving end of many a reprimand. Even though there many search engines out there like Bing and Ask that share some of it’s supposed faults,the Palo Alto company seems to have been singled out by various EU regulatory bodies as a weed that has to be pulled out of the EU landscape.
Now the French want to censor the search engine’s world wide search results! If that is not evil government overreach then I do not know what is. If this were China asking for this, the International community ( code for Western developed nations) would be in an uproar and Beijing would be universally and strongly condemned for trying to “encroach on people freedoms and other nations’ sovereignty.” But as it stands the western hemisphere is awfully quiet.
OK, some are wondering what the heck I am talking about. Well sometime ago a bunch of crazy justices at the European Court of Justice, in their infinite wisdom decided that people had the right to be forgotten.
That is if, for some reason, you did something stupid, like release as sex tape, default on your debts or steal from a bank and decided a decade later that you had found Jesus and are a changed man. You can just Google yourself, find the URLs (web addresses) that mention your past misdeed, fire up an email to Google and tell the search company not to show the offending URLs (web addresses) in search results when people Google you.
Thus people will forget about all your past dark deeds because they would be now “irrelevant” to your current life the way you see things and so we are just supposed to take your word for it.
The web addresses would of course still exist. One could just go to a rival search engine and Bing your name and get to your sordid tales and skeletons. This somehow escaped the inestimably wise justices who sat on the EU courts bench when they made their silly decision. Even if all search engines removed the pages one could still type in the right URL by hand, like people did before Google, and still read the stories.
You can forgive me for not understanding how deleting something from Google search results really helps the people involved when the information is still available on the Web ether. For a long time people who wanted to view the deleted search results simply typed in Google’s other addresses for example Google.com and made the search using that domain thus easily bypassing the restrictions which applied to European domain extensions such as Google.fr and Google.eu.
Instead of just admitting that the Right to be Forgotten judgement is silly and unenforceable, the French privacy watchdog, CNIL, wants Google to apply their silly European ruling and concepts to everyone else’s search results.
This means that when a Right to be Forgotten application is successful in France, it will automatically be applied to domains like Google.com and even Google.co.zw, Google.co.za, Google.co.zm, Google.co.mz, the whole thing.
Whatever some French clown finds objectionable, say if a French citizen was linked to the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, (we still do not fully know what role the French played in that Genocide) the fellow could just tell Google to remove all URLs that mention his alleged involvement in that genocide and if the application is successful the results will disappear from Google.rw’s search results as well.
Now that might sound harmless but it is an insidious attempt to rewrite History. Say a Rwandan Historian is utilising Google.rw as a research tool to write his History book or some student of History in Rwanda wants to learn about their History using Google. What it effectively means is that some fellow has deleted an important strand of History, true or not, from the world’s collective memory. That is essentially what Google is nowadays, our memory.
There is a reason why each country manages its own TLD. Zimbabwe manages the .zw domain, China the .hk and .cn domains and France its .fr namespace. The conventional wisdom is that anything that happens in a country’s TLD is taken to have happened in that country’s physical space and the rules of that country apply.
We most certainly do not believe in this right to be forgotten or we would have such laws. China wanted Google to “forget” some results. One of the bones of contention between Google and China was that China wanted to occasionally filter search results and remove content it felt, legitimately as a sovereign nation, to be objectionable from appearing in Google.cn results.
For example the Chinese government wanted search results for “Tienanmen Square” to show results of Tourists holding hands in the square when the most relevant results would have been the bloody Tienanmen Square uprising. China wanted people to forget because in all honesty the China of those days is not the China of now, they have changed and those results can even be deemed to be irrelevant. But it (the uprising) happened!
While we are at it, I’m sure there are some big names in our government here that would want to filter some content that they find objectionable. They could easily pass laws like the one that (used to) criminalises insulting the President.
The Thai have their strict monarchy laws. I am sure they want to remove anything that insults their monarch because it is illegal. Muslims countries would sure want to remove all content insulting the Prophet. Catholics would want to remove links to all those sodomy cases. Bush would want to remove links to the fact that he lied about Iraq having WMDs and Mr Clinton would sure love to remove links that reference his alleged relationship to Ms Lewinsky. Celebrities would love to remove links that point to TMZ.
The fact is, its a slippery slope. A country’s law should only be applicable to its domain (pun intended) and only to other countries by consent. The fact is the right to privacy should not force us to be turned into the kingdom of The Giver.
Threatening Google with fines is criminal and irresponsible. Frankily I think the French are just jealous and feel threatened by Google’s dominance. They have always, I feel, unfairly targeted the search engine. A while back they suggested a Google Tax where Google would essentially end up paying French news publishers for the right to direct traffic to the publishers new sites.
They have antitrust cases against Google accusing it of favouring its own results above that of competitors, it’s like trying to fine someone for praising and favouring their own child above the neighbour’s!
Or maybe they are just being French. The French have a business environment that makes Zimbabwe’s own look like Switzerland with prohibitive taxes that go as high as 75% and an anti-business Socialist president whose policies even confuse him. Or maybe they just do not like successful foreign businesses. They do not like Uber either.
Meddling is also a French thing and disaster always follows them. I do not think it’s a coincidence that most of the countries in Africa that are/were recently in turmoil either have a French heritage or worse a French Foreign Legion army in them.
Dont’ believe me: Chad, Mali, Burundi, Madagascar, DRC, the Congo, Tunisia, Algeria, Rwanda, Libya, Benin, Niger,Gambia,Gabon,Cameroon, … Or maybe I am just paranoid but you would be hard pressed to find a French related country without the word coup tucked in its history. French Hegemony or have I been spending too much time watching ZBC?
Seriously though, while we recognize the French’s sovereign right to pass laws in their own country, it is unfair for them to try and use their muscle to force it down our throats.
Other western countries should shed their solidarity aside and speak against such tyrannical tendencies or else forget Net Neutrality.The free and independent internet as we know it will be over because other governments are going to think;
Why, if the French can do it, why not us.
As damaging as the right to be forgotten is, some governments can do worse.
Why?Le droit à l’oubli? (The right to be forgotten?) N’importe quoi! (It is nonsense of course!) But it is French nonsense not ours and they should just drop it. Filtering the past does not erase what happened because what happened still happened, ce a la vie and that is how we prefer it even if the you,the French don’t.
Image credit: wallapapermania.com