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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dark Side of New “Right to Be Forgotten”

Some industry experts argue that the recent EU judgment was a dangerous step in the wrong direction. The judgment in question was delivered by the European Court of Justice and allowed anyone to demand that a search engine remove unwanted data from its index, even if the data remains legitimate and publicly available online.


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Once this ruling was made, people started to send their individual takedown requests to Google. Among them there were an ex-politician who seeks re-election, a pedophile, and a doctor who seeks to remove negative reviews from his patients. No-one denies that privacy is a universal right that must be protected at all levels, but this judgment may just aid the powerful to rewrite history, rather than afford individuals more influence over their online identities.

The EU ruling in a case brought by a Spanish individual, who wanted links to the auctioning of his home to disappear from search results, allows everyone to petition search engine operators, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yandex, and others. Moreover, the ruling puts companies in a close to impossible position of deciding what data can be deemed irrelevant enough to take it down from search results.

However, the suspicion is that people that have motivation and resources to pursue complaints will largely appear political and business elites who wish to hide their past. As a result, the search engines will face pressure to delete what they want or face the legal costs of challenging illegitimate requests.

The most serious implication of the court ruling is its impact on political speech and processes. Observers predict a wave of potential candidates for public office trying to curate their own bespoke search results to make sure that only flattering data remains readily available. In the meantime, the EU judgment exempts data processed “solely for journalistic purposes”, but this term lacks definition and therefore will fail to protect the practice of journalism.

Worse still, the industry experts point out that the ruling in question will have global implications, because European action is normally borrowed as a model by other countries across the world. According to Google’s content removal transparency report, there have already been some government officials seeking to remove search results and other information which could threaten their position.

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