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CEO Michael Fertik weighs in on prostitute’s arrest following Google exec’s death

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Financial Times: Google Removes Search Results Under ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Rules

 

Google, which was founded with the aim of indexing “all the world’s information”, took a grudging step back from its principles on Thursday as it started removing search results in Europe to comply with new rules on the “right to be forgotten”.

Europe’s highest court last month ruled that individuals had the right to request the removal of links to personal information under certain conditions.

“This is a cosmically big deal,” said Michael Fertik, founder of ReputationDefender, which helps people control their online profiles. “For the first time under the law, privacy and dignity are getting the same treatment” as other areas such as copyright.

The European ruling has divided opinion. Many welcome the prospect of gaining greater control over their personal information. But others fear that the new rules may be open to abuse and result in important information disappearing from the internet.

The move has met with fierce opposition in Silicon Valley, despite an admission by Google chief executive Larry Page in a recent interview with the FT that private individuals sometimes have a valid argument for suppressing links to information about them online.

“Attitudes in Silicon Valley haven’t softened at all about the requirement to scrub search results,” said Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University. “It’s like watching people working through the five stages of grief. At the end, you get acceptance, but it doesn’t mean anyone likes it.”

But some privacy campaigners called on Google on Thursday to extend the new right-to-be-forgotten system around the world, arguing that its smooth introduction in Europe showed the regime could operate in other regions as well.

“Many in the US said that it would be impossible for Google to comply, as if it would somehow violate the law of gravity,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Now that Google has rolled out a new privacy service in Europe, it should make the feature available to all internet users.”

As of Thursday, Google has started to include a new statement in search results: “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe”. This statement (see below) appears for any name apart from those of celebrities.

Google said it is considering removal requests one at a time and “working as quickly as possible to get through the queue”.

The company plans to start the takedown process slowly, before accelerating once it is confident its systems are working properly.

Google has also started to notify individuals whose requests it will not honour and those whose are incomplete, as well as the owners of websites affected by the information removal.

The European Court of Justice last month ruled that individuals had the right to request the removal of search results linking to “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” personal data – even if the information had been published legally.

Google responded on May 30 by introducing an online form that gave Europeans a formal route to make removal requests. In the first four days after uploading the form, Google received more than 41,000 requests – averaging about seven every minute. The company on Thursday declined to provide a more up-to-date figure.

Google is not planning to remove links to personal information from the US version of its search engine, meaning that Europeans can visit Google.com to search for information that has been removed from their local version.

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The Telegraph: ‘Paedophile, Slut, Criminal’: How Online Trolls Can Ruin Your Life

 

Miriam first learned that she’d been called a rape fantasist when her father phoned about some strange Google search results coming up alongside her name.

“It was talking about what might be wrong with me psychologically," she says. “There were accusations that I had fantasies that I want to be raped. It was really disgusting. That was the first thing I found out and I heard about it through my father.”

The comments marked the beginning of five years of intensive abuse. Miriam had defended another woman on an unmoderated forum after anonymous bloggers accused the woman of promiscuity and said her boyfriend was a rapist. Following the comment, Miriam was attacked – by people she doesn't know but believes are strangers – every week for six months, and was the subject of fresh abuse every six months for the following years.

Earlier this week, homeowners in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire were targeted by a blackmail campaign which warned they would be falsely accused of paedophilia unless they paid a ransom in Bitcoins.

And last month, a couple were jailed after labelling an innocent woman a prostitute online and forcing her to move 350 miles away to escape the constant stream of men asking for sex.

The cover of anonymity and frequency of attacks can make online abuse extremely difficult to combat and, as Miriam discovered, those with technical ability now have the means to ruin a stranger's a reputation online.

The scale of abuse

Miriam’s professors and employers were named in abusive posts, her relatives had their contact details published online, and her attackers created a fake URL to look as though she’d written a racist blog post.

“A lot of it was sexual. Accusations that I have STDs, that I’m promiscuous. There was this odd combination of: 'She’s fat and ugly and she’s a promiscuous diseased slut,'" she says.

Miriam became an “emotional wreck” as a result of the abuse. She wouldn’t give out her last name and became scared of dating.

“I was very ashamed. For a long time I believed that I had done something that had brought this on and it made it very hard to talk about," she says. “Worst case scenario, I didn’t want anybody to think that that was true and take it as some sort of permission to take advantage of me, or think that I wanted these things to happen.”

She would spend several hours each night trying to track the abuse and asking websites to take down the posts. While some did so quickly, other unmoderated forums took months to respond or refused to remove the messages, so the accusations remained in her Google search results.

Miriam says Google would only remove information with a court order, and considered her attacks an interpersonal dispute.

“The recommendation is to talk to the person who posted them. And of course, I don’t know who posted this so I have no recourse there. I did eventually retain a lawyer but quite frankly there was essentially nothing I could do.”

Last month, the European Union’s top court ruled that Google must delete personal information about individuals upon request, though it remains to be seen how much the ruling will help people like Miriam.

Meanwhile, the police were sympathetic, but also struggled to help in the face of her attacker’s technical ability.

“Whoever was posting these knows what they’re doing and was using proxy IP addresses. Once the IP was traced to Europe, police told me it was no longer in their jurisdiction and they couldn’t do anything," she says,

Miriam now has a paragraph in her cover letter explaining the posts and has set up several websites to try and push down the abusive messages on Google search results.

“I always assumed I wasn’t an important enough person for this to happen to," she says.

Reputation management – how to respond

In response to the growing problem of online reputation trashing, Michael Fertik founded ReputationDefender to help individuals protect and shape their profile online. He says that he’s seen every kind of abuse, from revenge porn to impersonation.

“Impersonation can be very nasty because they can make trouble in your name,” he says. “One of the worst things I’ve seen is a woman who very cleverly attacked herself in the name of her ex partner. She then reported it and it was so convincing and so vicious that it took him two years to unwind the fact that it wasn’t he that was doing it.”

And although the effects can be devastating, Michael says it takes minimal technical skills to create abusive search results that appear prominently online. ReputationDefender won’t try to delete abusive messages, but counters them by creating authentic posts to help push down the false rumours on search results.

Ken Padgett learned this technique himself after he suffered 10 years of abuse when he intervened in an argument online.

He was labelled a drug addict, an ex convict and a paedophile, and his attacker wrote to his neighbours and employer.

Ken responded to the abusive comments with his own websites and search engine optimisation, so that the negative posts would no longer be at the top of search results. But the best – and most effective – course of action, he says, is to stay out of online debates.

“Don’t argue with people online. There are nut cases who might come after you just for saying something they don’t like," he adds. “It’s not worth it.”

 

Original article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/10897474/Paedophile-slut-criminal-how-trolls-can-ruin-your-life.html

Photo credit: Getty Images, via The Telegraph

 

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