Background: Due to several court rulings in Europe, Google is required to honor a person's "right to be forgotten," which basically means that if someone fills out a form online requesting Google to take down search results that involve that person's identity, Google must honor the request, within reason. This seemingly simple, basically supportable idea has lead to a rabbit-hole, beyond-the-looking-glass, metaphor-for-confusion loop of strangeness: Google has now been ordered to forget what it forgot.
In a Wittgensteinian act of removing the ladder once one has reached the top of it, Google has now been ordered to remove links to stories discussing Google removing links to stories. This order came from the UK's Information Commissioner David Smith, whose title suddenly smacks even more of Orwellian double-speak considering his job now involves making information disappear.
As Kate Knibbs of Gizmodo quite reasonably asks, "how will the [Information Commission] handle purging news stories about the news stories about purging the news stories about purging news stories, or how it will handle purging news stories about purging news stories about the news stories about purging the news stories?"
The original linked stories that lead to the "right to be forgotten" being created involved a claimant whose 10-year-old criminal offense he wanted removed from search results about him. This kind of makes sense for those whose youthful yet embarrassing indiscretions continue to haunt them. But it isn't just stupid stuff done while young that is the problem. One "right to be forgotten" case involved a woman who allegedly ran a large-scale prostitution ring. Another in Germany involved a convicted murderer trying to get his name removed from Wikipedia articles. At a certain point the right to be forgotten begins to feel a lot like censorship, except as practiced by individuals rather than governments.
Furthermore, the whole thing seems absurd and moot because the news stories themselves don't disappear, just the Google search result links to them. This has lead to news agencies like the BBC and the Telegraph keeping running, publicly available lists of stories that have been effected by the link takedowns, which themselves may have to have their links taken down. The Streisand effect is in full force here. (Link features mildly-NSFW gif of animated flying penises.)
As has been observed, this leads to Google searches for individuals' names being stripped out of search results, while searches for "right to be forgotten" or "google forgotten takedown" giving full lists of effected news stories with names and everything. So nothing has been "forgotten" at all.
This also leads to Google being in the strange position of being arbiter of what is worthy of being forgotten or not, which seems like a power a private, profit-seeking company should not be given.
My instinct tells me that the right to be forgotten is stupid in the same way the anonymous posting on the internet is stupid. What we say and the actions we take have consequences. They should and need to, so that we will be forced to consider what they mean and what impact they might have.
Anonymity on the internet encourages people to speak with abandon, knowing they won't suffer for ugly things they might say. Will knowing the "right to be forgotten" exists encourage people's behavior in the same way? Probably to a lesser degree, but there are strange incentives at work here. The "right to be forgotten" is an idea whose consequences will play out in ways that we have no way of predicting.