We'll Just Forget That Ever Happened

By Dow Jones Business News, 
A A A


By Joe Queenan

Recently, democracy took it on the chin. The European Court of Justice issued a bizarre ruling that Internet search engines must remove links to Web pages that provide embarrassing information about an individual's past. This means that debtors who shafted their creditors in 1997 or Euro-frat-boys who posed naked with shaving cream adorning their private parts in 2003 can have the links to these mortifying images or documents removed from the Web forever.

To find this compromising data, people will now have to work much harder. No longer will anyone accidentally stumble upon the fact that her fiancé once set fire to his parents' house in Monte Carlo, or that the personable young woman being considered for a post teaching kindergarten once headed a Maoist terrorist group in Baden-Baden.

No one will ever get to see the photo of the high school kid stuffing a pie into his stepfather's face at his mom's second wedding ceremony, or what the Audi looked like when Jørgen totaled it after senior prom. If you want such information, you'll have to go find it yourself. You will get no help from Google.

The implications of this ruling are obvious: The past will simply disappear. At least the European past. This is a horrifying thought. Fab Morvan, the surviving member of the disgraced duo Milli Vanilli, can now demand that Google remove all links to Web pages detailing how he and his partner Rob Pilatus faked the vocals on the records that made them famous in the early 1990s. One of the great hoaxes in the history of popular music will pass into history. And no one will ever be the wiser.

It gets worse. Soccer players who kicked the ball into their own goal in the World Cup can demand that all links to video footage of their staggering ineptness be removed from search engines. French politicians who had assorted children out of wedlock can insist that all links to Web pages depicting their illegitimate progeny whacking at piñatas be taken down. Famous actresses who once starred in Brand X Welsh-language soap operas can bring legal action to ensure that all records of their formative thespian indiscretions are purged from memory.

What if lawyers turn really aggressive and demand that an even wider swath of data get electronically "forgotten"? What if entire countries demand that embarrassing data be excised from search engines? Then a child might Google " Germany & Poland," and the name " Adolf Hitler" would never come up. Historical amnesia would also prevail if search engines were asked for data about "Stalin & gulags" and "cultural revolution & mass murder."

Actually, they already do this stuff in Russia and China. But now Europe could be just as bad.

Spanish kids would never know what happened to the Armada. French children would never find out about Vichy. English children would never be told about Duran Duran. This isn't fair. Kids have a right to know that Peter Gabriel once played in a band with Phil Collins. They have a right to know about Mussolini, Franco, Pétain, Wings. They have a right to know that the chancellor of the exchequer once wore a Nehru jacket at Oxford.

If such a destructive search-engine policy were ever to prevail on U.S. shores, the damage would be irreparable. The legend of Jimmy Carter and the Killer Rabbit would evaporate. The photo of Michael Dukakis be-helmeted in the tank would pass into history. There would be no record that Miley Cyrus had once been Hannah Montana, that Lady Gaga attended private Catholic school, that Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake began their careers as Mouseketeers, that Michael Jackson started out normal.

The public has a right to know this stuff. For a society that cannot Google its past is condemned to...well, you know the rest.

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires


  (END) Dow Jones Newswires
  05-23-142055ET
  Copyright (c) 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


This article appears in: Technology

Referenced Stocks: GOOG , GOOGL

Dow Jones Business News


More from Dow Jones Business News:

Related Videos

The Pumpkin Carvers
The Pumpkin Carvers                 
The Diamond Cutter
The Diamond Cutter                  

Stocks

Referenced

Most Active by Volume

56,834,794
    $15.52 unch
47,736,761
  • $94.72 ▲ 0.83%
41,992,984
  • $2.47 ▲ 11.76%
40,893,734
  • $34.7901 ▲ 2.14%
39,324,803
  • $69.27 ▼ 0.19%
39,276,613
  • $7.28 ▲ 2.68%
39,084,483
  • $44.83 ▼ 0.01%
33,527,212
  • $26.02 ▲ 0.15%
As of 7/22/2014, 04:03 PM