Earlier this week a high court in the European Union issued a stunning ruling against Google. EU citizens, said the court, have the right not to be found on the internet. The court views this as a right derived from the right to privacy. If an individual requests that information about him/her be removed from the SERPs, Google must comply. While current European privacy law says that “relevant” and “up to date” information will be exempt from removal, the definition of those terms is unclear.
Google is “Furious” and Disappointed by the Court’s Decision
Obviously, this presents huge logistical and implementation challenges for Google. Beyond that, there is also a range of pressing questions about the ways individuals can exercise this right and what the implications are for other search engines, news outlets, content marketers, SEO professionals and other individuals and businesses.
Do Criminal’s Now Have Rights Online?
First of all, let me say that I think this is ridiculous. Google should NOT be responsible for content it indexes. Not to mention, there are more far reaching things to consider. Here are six thorny issues that occurred immediately to us, and we suspect that additional concerns will reveal themselves in the future.
- What happens to the Internet Archive (Way Back Machine)? The archive is a very useful service in practical, as well as scholarly, endeavors. Will we all be required to sacrifice reliable records of internet history because a handful of people want to erase embarrassing events or even crimes?
- What about criminal behavior? Someone — the court? legislators? — needs to decide if individuals have the right to hide past criminal activities. If so, we can think of some worthy websites whose content is immediately at risk, such as those that publicize the addresses of sex offenders.
- What’s the penalty if Google (and presumably other search or even SEO companies) fails to purge all undesirable references to a person? It doesn’t seem right that companies that deal in news and information be penalized for doing their job well to begin with.
- Is this a form of censorship? If I search for information on a topic or a public figure, it’s possible that some individual, likely anonymous, may be censoring data that I would otherwise be able to see.
- What about organizations that advocate for a cause or political issue? The content of, say, an activist group against drunk driving, could be censored by an individual wishing to hide a former conviction for vehicular homicide.
- What about nations outside of the EU? Some will likely choose not to view this right in the same way. To enforce this ruling, the EU may have to follow China’s lead and develop a Great Firewall to prevent its citizens from accessing free, uncensored SERPs.
Now you might think I’m being overly dramatic here. I mean, sex offenders? A European firewall? I admit that these are startling examples, but that’s exactly the point. How far are we as a society willing to go to protect an individual’s right not to be found? What is your opinion?