The Barry Gibb effect (“It oughta be illegal!”)

This is just a short post to introduce a new term into the internet privacy world: the Barry Gibb effect. It relates to the ECJ Google vs Spain judgement (erroneously a.k.a. “The Right To Be Forgotten” RtbF), and Google’s response to it. I don’t want to set out my views on that in detail here – especially not as most of what I would say has been put across eloquently by Paul Bernal, by Jon Baines , on the Amberhawk Blog, or by Tim Turner already. In brief:

  • the judgement serves a real need but is still imperfect, e.g. in making Google the judge of public interest;
  • Google have brought this upon themselves by refusing to be judged in the “press” category;
  • if Google search had anything to do with freedom of expression, its results would need to be ranked transparently in a way that bears no relation to anyone’s commercial interests;
  • the number of RtbF removal requests is dwarfed by the number of copyright removal ones, so it’s very odd that Google would find it hard to deal with them;
  • Google are deliberately overreacting in order to get the press on their side in rejecting the judgement.

The Barry Gibb effect (#gibbeffect) relates to this latter point. Google appears to have removed webpages from search results well beyond the context (outdated irrelevant information of no public or historic interest) of the judgement. It has then sent notifications of the removal to the owner of the page – particularly to journalists. The ECJ judgement does not appear to include any such obligation. One might even argue that sending it perverts the spirit of the judgement (and might constitute unlawful processing under the DPA). Google seems to be hoping for the page owner to make a fuss. This has two effects: one is drawing attention to the page that someone wanted to hide (this is known as the Streisand effect), and the other is getting a journalist worked up about the “unreasonable” ECJ judgement on Google’s behalf. The latter is the Barry Gibb effect, named in recollection of memorable Streisand/Gibb duets like “Guilty” and “What kind of fool”. Notable displays of the Barry Gibb effect so far have been by the BBC journalist Robert Peston “cast into oblivion“, the Daily Telegraph newspaper, and last week
Roy Greenslade of the Guardian and others, about some obscure painter.

Finally, unrelated … once you have seen the Spooky Men’s Chorale you never will think of Barry Gibb in the same way again.