Are We Ever Gone and Forgotten on the Internet?
Thanks to the Internet, it’s an even smaller world than the world people used to say was small before the Internet. With a little digging on Google, I’ve located past friends on the other side of the world, found criminal records of high school classmates and confirmed how long my ex boyfriends’ marriages lasted. I could have avoided a dangerous situation had I done background on my former manager before I went to work for him. Everyone Google searches people and we expect Google will bring up public information, even long-forgotten, embarrassing or ancient history. If it’s a matter of public record, it’s in the public interest. Right?
Well, not necessarily, at least not according to the European High Court of Justice who ruled last week on the side of European privacy law and an individual’s “right to be forgotten.” They ruled that search engines, like Google, must establish a procedure to remove information if the court deems the information is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to those purposes and in the light of the time that has elapsed.” The court ruling applies only to search engines and not individual sites. Google said it needs a few weeks to figure out the algorithm, but is willing to comply.
Don’t Update Your Passport Just Yet
Don’t start applying for Belgium citizenship quite yet. That photo of you passed out in college, your arrest in 1992 or the nasty postings from your ex are likely to remain for your future employer or dating prospect to search.This ruling may not have the impact on Internet data as some have implied. First, each case is reviewed for merit and the public’s freedom of expression or public interest is measured against the negative impact on the individual. Second, there are ways around searches within European borders.So the court hasn’t actually changed the Internet as we know it.
But this is an early ruling on this new medium and, while it addressed personal privacy, it also established the Internet, primarily Google, as the world’s news’ source. That may be the bigger story. The European Court acknowledged that a dominant search engine has more power over reputationsthan newspaper or television and, therefore, has more impact. By deeming Google the leading information provider, it put a spotlight on how Google filters and censors data now. A brick and mortar court in a country with border faced a U.S. company that doesn’t have any borders. This is still a new frontier.
Finally, this ruling parallels Europeans’ generally stronger feeling of protection about their privacy than we do in this country. Their reaction to the NSA recording private calls was more impassioned than it was for people here. But here or there, Google already knows more about us than the NSA, anyway. This decision is part of the ongoing discussion on Internet privacy and data censorship. It will be interesting to see how Google and future courts handle it. SB