Google, along with the other search engines, encompasses pretty much any piece of information we could hope to find on the internet. The question here is, what are the terms to a certain piece of information having a presence on the internet? Will it always be available via a simple Google search? Will it just be on the internet for a certain period of time or is it permanent? These are the types of questions privacy involves and the internet makes the process of protecting privacy quite a mind-boggling one.
Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), has declared that citizens have a certain “right to be forgotten” online. Think about that for a second and imagine all of the technicalities that it will entail. In short, the ECJ has said old information pertaining to an individual is not only irrelevant, but misleading as well. Then the ECJ went on to declare that Google and other fellow search engines have a “responsibility to delete links concerning personal information upon request as long as that information is not relevant or in the public interest.” This is the jest of the situation, as the court is working on a comprehensive new law that would clearly regulate it.
It is safe to say that there are many people in the world who would like some sort of information about them or something they are affiliated with to be completely removed off the internet. For example, embarrassing or outdated photos of a person can end up costing them a career after the employer performs a Google search on them and discovers the information. Or possibly there is flawed information of a person on the web and it is hindering their reputation, scaring away clients, or costing them potential job opportunities. These are just a few examples as to what type of information people or companies would like removed from the public eye. But where is the line drawn? Who decides what information stays or goes? Can anyone request to take information off of the internet? What if the removal of the information directly impacts a third party in a negative manner? The list of questions goes on.
Again, this case only relates to Europe. It seems that most Americans either accept the fact or flat out don’t care that their personal information is available on the web. This is a country where free speech is instilled, and having the government censor information on the internet doesn’t seem too likely. Remember when China censored the web in their country? It sure seems that Europe may be leading down the same path, deciding what information can or cannot be seen by its’ people.
It is completely understandable to want old tweets that were shared purely out of anger or embarrassing Facebook photos removed from the internet. But again, who is going to decide this and on what guidelines? The European court stated that information shall be removed “if there is no public interest in preserving the data.” This is a slippery slope because the interest of one person varies from the next, so how in the world could a certain piece of information be deemed as not in the interest of the public when we all have differing opinions. Obviously there will be more extreme cases where it is unanimous to remove the information, but there are still so many cases where it could go either way on whether the information should be removed. Think of this in the sense of a basketball game. A guy comes dribbling down the center of the lane as a defender slides over in hopes to draw a charge. It is so difficult for the referee to decide whether it was a block or if it was a charge, as this is easily one of the toughest calls for a basketball referee to make. Now think of Google as the referee here. Do they keep the information up on the Internet or do they remove it? The call cannot get much tougher than that.
Apparently just Internet sources, such as Google are suffering the backlashes here. Newspapers, magazines, archives, books and so on are not requested to remove any information by the court. The response of Google was ultimately that the decision was “disappointing” and is basically equivalent to making them censor information. How will this decision of the European court affect the world of SEO? We all know low quality links are a no-no, but is Europe really going to make it the responsibility of Google and other search engines to remove old links affecting someone’s reputation?
This “right to be forgotten” situation in Europe is surely going to be a long, difficult process. What are your thoughts on it? Do you think the court is going to be able to uphold its decision? Or will Google be able to use its power to find a loophole in this ordeal?