Google has started removing results from its search engine under Europe’s new “right to be forgotten.”
A landmark May ruling by the European Union’s top court, the law means people will be able to ask Google to delete certain search results. Scrubbing the Internet seems like a daunting task, but Google has hired a dedicated team to process the more than 41,000 requests it has received in nearly a month to remove results that turn up in searches for individual names. Only a small number of the initial wave of requests have been processed. Among the first links to be scrubbed was one to a newspaper advertisement that mentioned a long-resolved debt of an individual whose complaint helped establish the law.
Google won’t highlight when specific search results have been removed, but it will add a notification at the bottom of the list to indicate compliance with the law. The changes will apply only to European versions of Google – content will still appear on its U.S.-based site, a point not lost on some privacy advocates. Yahoo and Microsoft said that they are working on implementing the law for their search engines.
Privacy advocates have long argued that people should be allowed to remove some of their digital footprint from the Internet. In court, Google argued that this amounts to censorship. The company said search engines don’t control data, they just link to information that’s already freely available online. The court ruled otherwise.
The question is whether this is really a victory of the individual over the corporation, or a victory over transparency. Within hours of the ruling an ex-politician as well as a convicted pedophile asked Google to remove links to their stories from the site. The politician is planning to run for office once more, and wanted stories about his prior behavior in office (which we can assume was not to the taste of his voters) removed from search. The pedophile has asked that links to websites about his conviction be removed, meaning it would be harder for neighbors and potential landlords to check into his criminal history before inviting the man to a location potentially surrounded by children. A doctor has also asked Google to remove negative reviews about him written by former patients.
One reason the search giant is slow in getting to the requests already file is the likelihood that illegitimate requests – such as a disliked service provider asking to remove unfavorable reviews – are delaying legitimate requests – users looking to remove illegally gathered photographs or videos of themselves leaked online, for instance.
EU Commissioner Viviane Redding called the May ruling “a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans.” Would she feel as strongly if a pedophile using the law to their advantage moved into her neighborhood?
You wouldn’t think privacy was such a premium given the way many people use of social media. We post silly blurbs and photos on Facebook, Instagram and every other form of social networking. We’re the nation on Facebook, YouTube, Google and Shmoogle. We use Mapquest and GPS. We vent on Yelp. We’ve done anything and everything to get on television, including a show called “Big Brother.” Post a comment to any website and rest assured, paranoid reader: “They” can probably find you. We don’t want privacy; we want attention.
When you think about this, this is about retroactively altering the historical record. Here we have a politician and a convicted criminal requesting that a search engine, “delete all references to my crimes?” How soon will it be before a corporation tells a search engine, “Make that scandal disappear?”