Go Google Yourself

Thursday, February 01, 2018
4 reactions


By Kevin Metcalf

When you Google yourself, what do you see? Is there anything in your search results you would like to remove? A past indiscretion? A profile on a corporate website which no longer aligns with your values? A dated quote from your high-school yearbook or an embarrassing video from a party in university? Search engines like Google aggregate and rank content through algorithms that use things like search history, known interests or location to give searchers what they want. Some of what you see about yourself might be embarrassing and you don’t have a lot of control over what shows up. Daniel Therrien is the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and he wants to give you the power to remove search results about yourself by filing a takedown request to search providers. Sounds great? Well, not so much actually.

The Privacy Commissioner suggested in a January 26 draft policy position that Canadians have the right under current privacy laws to challenge ‘inaccurate, incomplete or out of date’ information. The policy document points to current regulations which require companies to provide accurate information and the ability of individuals to challenge that information. The end result would be the implementation of a complex system of private censorship that could see photographs, videos, news articles and social media postings delisted by search providers.

Image result for mirror on the wall gif

We’re not always going to like what truths about ourselves are reflected back.

A similar censorship system has been implemented in the European Union and resulted in hundreds of thousands of requests for content delisting. Search engine providers are strongly opposed to this. An article in the UK based publication The Register quotes general counsel for Google Kent Walker, saying that the implementation of right to be forgotten in the European Union could imply “all mentions of criminality or political affiliation should automatically be purged from search results, without any consideration of public interest.”

The Guardian analysed leaked code from a Google transparency report and concluded that of 218,320 requests filed between 2014 and 2015, almost half were successful in removing content. Almost 9,000 of those requests were for removal of information pertaining to political issues, public figures or serious crimes. “If the Court accepted this argument, it would give carte blanche to people who might wish to use privacy laws to hide information of public interest—like a politician’s political views, or a public figure’s criminal record,” Walker wrote.

The Privacy Commissioner’s policy draft also calls on parliament to conduct a review of proposed changes.CJFE participated in 2016 consultations on the “right to be forgotten” as one of 28 stakeholder groups. It is our position that the proposed “right to be forgotten” conflicts with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 2(b): the right to “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” Information and stories published online should not be made to disappear from the purview of inquisitive citizens.

The draft policy points out correctly that children today are growing up in an age where their heavily documented and surveilled online lives may permanently alter their futures and job prospects. This is indicative of a great need to provide digital literacy education at an early age, as Therrien’s report suggests, as an alternative to the implementation of overbroad internet censorship regimes that attack free expression in the name of protecting youth.Image result for think of the children gif

Where have we heard this argument before?

The right to be forgotten is a danger to press freedom and freedom of expression and has no place in Canada’s open society. Removing material from search engine rankings impairs access to information and the right to know. Crucially, it risks altering the historic record, and similar to Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, delisting requests could be used to chill advocacy, dissent or journalism on issues of critical public interest. In the day and age of #MeToo, it’s not difficult to see how powerful individuals might use the right to be forgotten to scrub Google searches of negative, truthful information linked to their names.

George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen called the right to be forgotten "the biggest threat to free speech on the Internet in the coming decade." It certainly threatens a major conflict between search engines and media outlets. Editorial decisions must rest with publishers — not tech companies. Google cannot and should not be the gatekeeper for what information the public can access. Taken in tandem with a gravely concerning proposal asking the CRTC to authorize Canadian ISPs to block certain websites on behalf of lobbying groups, we’re seeing the emergence of a disturbing trend toward internet censorship in Canada.

If this censorship plan goes forward, residents of Canada will find it increasingly difficult to reach accurate content. The right to be forgotten delists content regionally. This means that a researcher outside of Canada could see accurate information about topics which are excluded from Canadian search rankings. In much of the developing world, internet users rely on Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to circumvent geo-restrictions and access accurate or complete information due to public or private censorship of information resources, including the media. The right to be forgotten proposal is, if nothing else, a bold endorsement of the utility of VPN technology in Canada, and a worrying sign for internet freedom in one of the world’s only “full democracies”.


Kevin Metcalf is the Promotions and Communications Coordinator for Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

What do you think?

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  • Edward Graydon
    commented 2021-04-29 09:11:39 -0400
    This was enough to have me banned from CBC

    • Edward HC Graydon
    April 15, 2021 at 9:09 pm
    WHO does not back vaccination passports for now – spokeswomanThe World Health Organization does not back requiring vaccination passports for travel due to uncertainty over whether inoculation prevents transmission of the virus, as well as equity concerns, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
    “We as WHO are saying at this stage we would not like to see the vaccination passport as a requirement for entry or exit because we are not certain at this stage that the vaccine prevents transmission,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said.
    “There are all those other questions, apart from the question of discrimination against the people who are not able to have the vaccine for one reason or another,” she told a U.N. news briefing.
  • Edward Graydon
    commented 2021-01-31 18:00:29 -0500
    I might add that should Justine Trudeau’s new internet law that stipulates that comments posted must come down within 24 hours if deemed hurtful and that it is on the onus of the media outlets to enforce the law within 24 hours seems almost remanisant of what I had stated needed to be done in an article by CBC on Karina Gould. If Justine Trudeau is so worried about hate crime in the comment section going so far as to force people like yourself to deem if it is hurtful, biased or deemed unworthy ! He must spend quite a bit of time reading them? The problem I have is this ? Who decides? Maybe the information that is being deemed unworthy is done so out of personal ignorence on the side of the editor or who ever is technically pulling the plug on its visibility. I believe the answer to a democratic open society is not to censor but to have it remain indefinitely . It is reminiscent to book burning when they {? } decide to cancel your in put into the world of documrnted opinion !

    If you take a organisation like rebel Media they have monatised themselves and there for in my opinion should be subject to closer scrutenty of the law and subject to being canceled but should one organisation or person who does not benefit from the selling of personal opinion by way of income than should be exempt and free to speak his or her mind to whatever it is they feel needs to be said .
    Basically by creating an income on thought that the site knows could be seen as knowingly false but intended to create fear should be censored while allowing the Canadian citizen to speak openly with less possible censorship or none ,if done using there given name and not a moniker or alias ? But who does that, it kind of defeats the purpose of self exspression

    I tell you what ! If you can find the article where I stated my opinion on internet control and how to gain it ? You will see why I believe Justine Trudeau plagiarised my ideas as his own . I openly called Trudeau out by name in that article and interesting enough it is hard to find in a Google search .

    I think Canada needs to implement laws that force communication to be retained indefinetly ,The Right to be remembered law is what the goverment should actually impose but they seem to be going the complete opposite in direction in opposing free speech.
  • Edward Graydon
    commented 2021-01-24 12:17:31 -0500
    For the sake of freedom of exspression I support Google in there quest to never remove past input into social media more I support laws that help implement the right to be remembered I support any internet law that would also have all news and social media produce deleted comments as well! Use your real name when you post to the internet and assume responsibility for what you have stated publicly and don’t try and hide after publicly stating it! Combine this with facial recognition and I think the internet will be a better place !
    But regardless of what was stated make it visible and available to the public and let them hold the poster accountable! Don’t delete it make visible as long as one uses there given name!

    Edward HC Graydon
  • silke voglerz
    commented 2019-12-19 02:54:13 -0500
    I never Google myself, I don’t want to think about it because god knows what I will find