The Right To Be Forgotten

The European Court of Justice has ruled that a Spanish man could ask Google to remove a link to a property auction, where the man was forced to sell a property due to debts.

The reason for the link does not appear to be important here – the matter appears to be that links that are deemed to be “irrelevant” should be removed on request.

In this case the link pointed to a property auction notice that was 16 years old – this is probably a factor in the decision.

However, the wider implications for Google (and other search engines – apparently there are others) could be enormous.

Unless Google can show a public interest in not removing links, the links to the lives of individuals can be removed, on their request.

Obviously, links to public figures will not figure in this – this so-called “right to be forgotten” is aimed squarely at ordinary citizens.

It is also a direct response to and consequence of the NSA/GCHQ data gathering revelations, though ironically it will not have any impact on this type of data hoovering.

A few years ago Eric Schmidt, (then the Google CEO), stated he could see the time when individuals could ask for search data and content about them to be purged from the Internet. He probably thought this was some time in the distant future, not within 5 years.

People, (particularly young people) live their lives online and publish their every move and action to friends and strangers. These are their very public diaries. However, in a few years that public rant or moan about something or those drunken photos could easily come back to haunt these same people, particularly when they are seeking employment, a mortgage, even a partner.

We would argue that the “right to be forgotten” is a fundamental right for living a life online. We would also argue that enshrining this right will actually encourage more sharing and personal content – so will actually benefit media companies like Google.

Google makes a very good living winkling data from websites and any possible online and off line source. We know from our own experience that website owners have to take extensive measures to keep Google out of parts of websites where they have no legitimate business being.

Google cannot therefore turn around and express horror at this judgment.

Obviously Google will appeal, appeal, appeal & lobby to turn this around – but they will ultimately fail.

The overhead for dealing with copyrighted content removal requests is quite onerous for Google – this will pale compared to the potential stream of personal requests this judgment could bring.

The Google bot hoovers up a lot of content and information – it is only right that EU individuals have a right of removal.

If Google were brave they would take this on the chin and understand that it is the cost of doing great business in the EU.

Greater trust and redress will encourage greater sharing, and so more for the Google bot to find and index.

Google should embrace the right to be forgotten, no matter how counter-intuitive it at first appears to their business.

(Now if Bing wants to score some points they should embrace it wholeheartedly.)

There has been a lot of freedom of speech hot-air over this, that it amounts to censorship. This has even appeared in a substantial number of newspapers, (newspapers that owe their decline to Google and others).

This is clearly a load of rubbish.

There is a clear defence of public interest, and what is in the public interest is pretty straightforward to understand. Basically, if you are well-known or a public figure you are fair game. If you are a private individual (and not a member of an old boy-band) you are protected.

When newspapers complain about censorship and throw their lot in with Google and others do they not see the opportunity for their own continued relevance?

Newspapers and news programmes rarely avoid publishing or airing stories about those in the public eye. This judgment cements their position as the primary source of news. If Google is afraid to link to stories the public will go direct to the newspapers, either offline or online. I feel a renaissance coming on.

So for the Google apologists such as The Times – it is time to wake up to a beautiful day.

The pretender is dead, the king is alive and well.

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