Google and the Great Forgetting

April 16, 2018

I noted the glee with which the Gray Lady explained “Facebook Takes the Punches While Rest of Silicon Valley Ducks.” Newspapers may be pummeled, but the New York Times has enough zip to remind me that Silicon Valley luminaries know how to do the ostrich thing.

However, I noticed that another newspaper was not distracted by the Facebook road show. The write up which caught my attention was “Google Loses Landmark Right to Be Forgotten Case.” I don’t know about the legal wrangling, but I understood that when a person is supposed to be expunged from the Google public-facing indexes, that means the indexes which the average user can access.

The issue is that Google indexes content and plugs the pointers, metadata, accession numbers, and other goodies into its system for fielding queries. Queries can come from a human or from a system process.

The Google method is a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine. The guts buried deep within wrapper upon wrapper of software is edging close to 20 years of service. Furthermore, getting information out of a sprawling, fragmented collection of data is not easy. Mostly pointers are deleted. But some of the information is spirited away by automated processes and tucked into digital nooks and crannies. Deleting some information can cause dependencies to return unexpected results. Deletions can translate to excitement quickly.

The write up points out none of the concerns about Google’s plumbing. The write up reported:

The information is of scant if any apparent relevance to any business activities that he seems likely to engage in,” the judge added. He said his key conclusion in relation to NT2’s claim was that “the crime and punishment information has become out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to users of Google search to justify its continued availability”.

What’s ahead?

Definitely some data pointer removals. And, of course, the thrill of figuring out if glitches become more than a minor annoyance. Perhaps criminals have the right to be forgotten? Beyond Search wonders, “Will those harmed by illegal actions will lose their memories as well.”

Here in Harrod’s Creek we think the task of removing pointers may be a prelude to a flood of metadata removal work.

Stephen E Arnold, April 16, 2018

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