Google Corrections and Google Bombing: Privacy and the Right to Know

Ideas and Issues

3979743326_2aaa7d8562Houston     The European Court has everyone in a thither about whether or not the great and almighty Google might have to make some effort to correct some of the reputational damage done to people by linking information to them which is out of date or perhaps rendered untrue.  The debate now rages between what might be an individual’s potential rights to privacy and the public’s alleged right to knowledge.  The Europeans very preciously seem to value privacy while voices seem to be rising in the United States, ironically the home of the NSA and global spying, about the public’s right to information.  What should we make of all of this?

The claims of the internet of everything are wider ranging, but imperfect.  The old maxim of “garbage in and garbage out” is worth remembering before too many become confused into thinking that everything can be easily obtained even if everything might be available somewhere, somehow.  An easy example is the fact that Google searches already do not display information that is readily available, but behind paywalls.  Essentially, Google searches easily display information that is easily available and a huge amount of it, which makes it a valuable tool.  Nonetheless, the screaming rants of a right wing website are more likely to be sucked up that the careful prose of an academic analysis on the same subject.  Part of this goes to the issue that some will recall of Google “bombing” where campaigns can force content higher up the search toward the critical front page of what will show up on an item’s search by “bombing” the information in a number of ways.

My point is that Google is amazing and undoubtedly has replaced memory for many people, but unfortunately Google cannot be confused with accuracy and truth, and that seems to me the more powerful concern than whether something has “aged,” which was the case for the Spanish lawyer having now long repaid debts which was the issue brought and decided by the European court.  The right to know is still only going to be achieved by hard work and determined research, not by random, indiscriminate search engines working at the current levels.  Real people doing real work is still the requirement for knowledge.

Accuracy to me seems the much more important issue, and the more elusive to remedy.  Currently, there is no available means that anyone has to offset even the most outrageous falsehoods, which is part of the power of bullying via social media.  It reminds me of the absurdity in union elections under the NLRB, where the company is presumed to have the right to lie, as long as there is sufficient time for the union to tell the truth, all the while disregarding the imbalance between the ability of the parties to have their voices heard, which is huge for the company and minimal for the union.

At the present state of the internet, privacy is nonexistent.  Inaccuracies, breeches, insults, and other personal and reputational attacks are simply tests of character that require deep breaths and resilience.  In short it is something that is a feature of modern life that we simply have to live with.  This isn’t satisfying, but it is reality, and something that most people take so much as a given that few would likely challenge Google algorithms even if we were given the same opportunity being offered to citizens of the European Union.

Hope for the future has to be focused on forcing accuracy and a semblance of truth, since we now already know that privacy is largely a matter of sentimental nostalgia and the right to know is largely nonexistent.