Well, this is interesting.
Due to a request under 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 European versions of Google are affected. No action is required from you.
These pages haven’t been blocked entirely from our search results. They’ve only been blocked on certain searches for names on European versions of Google Search. These pages will continue to appear for other searches. We aren’t disclosing which queries have been affected.
This is the first time this has happened to me.
The URLs that will no longer appear in searches comprise the archives for August 2006. Browing those posts, I can see discussions about two people who had done things that might result in a set of embarrassing search results. The first is a post about the former Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who was cautioned by police for making an overtly Catholic religious gesture at the staunchly protestant Ibrox Stadium (a disgraceful breach of freedom of expression and freedom of religion rights, I thought then and still think now).
The second candidate is a post entitled Why Are We Wasting Our Time With This Shit? about a man named Inigo Wilson. He had himself written a blog post on Conservative Home, provocatively titled The Lefty Lexicon. The piece was intended as satire and included offensive definitions such as “Islamophobic – anyone who objects to having their transport blown up on the way to work.” The Muslim Public Affairs Committee claimed this was racist and (if I recall correctly) agitated for Mr Wilson to be sacked from his PR post at Orange. My view of the affair was that Inigo Wilson’s article was tedious but his freedom of expression should be respected.
Now, performing a Google search on this site for ‘Artur Botuc’ does (at the time of writing) yield the blog post in question. But performing a search on this site for ‘Inigo Wilson’ does not (again, at the time of writing) yield a link to the blog or the August 2006 archive.
This suggests that it is Mr Wilson who has sought to have Google search references to past activity suppressed, under the terms of European data protection laws.
Which prompts several thoughts.
First, I am grateful for the trip into my blog archives. I’m pleased that the Me From 11 Years Ago posted something that I agree with today.
Second, I’m vaguely irritated that it is my blog post about Inigo Wilson that has been removed from search results. This is because the piece was actually selected for inclusion in Justin McKeating’s 2007 Blog Digest, an anthology described as “a brilliant collection” by one Boris Johnson. A printed book of blog posts might seem laughably anachronistic in 2017, but at the time I was proud to have been included (I still am). So it matters to me that the post is available via search engines… and it is likely that the way people will most likely find it is through a search on Mr Wilson’s unusual name.
Third, I do think the law is fundamentally wrong to compel this kind of censorship and enable the ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ to this degree. The article Inigo Wilson wrote was published on a prominent political website. It was and is consequential and controversial. And the way in which MPAC responded to the article is still relevant to discussions about identity politics, outrage, political correctness. The article is something Mr Wilson pro-actively posted to the world. The online furore that ensued was brought about by his publication, not by a piece of investigative journalism or a tabloid invasion of privacy. I don’t see why there should be take-backs. I have always written on the assumption that anything I publish will be publicly available forever.
Finally, I wonder what Brexit means for the Right To Be Forgotten in the UK. The regulations in question are EU laws and extremely controversial. I wonder if analogous rules will ever be written into UK law?