Earlier this month, European courts ruled against Google in a historic privacy case that grants European citizens the ‘right to be forgotten’. This data protection rights case has been long in the making building up to this point since similar cases started appearing in European courts in 2010. The ruling was held on May 13 by the highest court in Europe, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), aiming to protect its citizen’s privacy rights from the international search engine giant, Google.
The ECJ made a clear distinction that Google needs to own up to its responsibility. Google is no longer a tool or a simple processor of data and information. Google has adapted to learn over the years and as such is an intelligent filter with algorithms and targeting. As such, it is a ‘controller’ of information and it is responsible for the links it provides to the public.
The ECJ ruled that Google must remove ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant’ search results if it is requested. It primarily affects searches about people and individuals, as the objective of the case was to protect citizens data and privacy rights.
This comes with pros and cons for individuals. For the average young person in today’s world, their lives are heavily documented from an early age. What seems like a funny picture when you’re a teenager, may lose you job opportunity today. Being able to redact old outdated photos from rebellious or embarrassing teenage years gives you the power to control your public image on the internet. However in instances such as political figures or people in positions of power, it will be all to easy for them to remove incriminating or unsavory moments from their past that may affect how someone might vote for them. This form of censorship has a lot of power.
So how does this work?
Google still has the right to determine whether or not a link really “should not” be removed. A can request any content be removed, without having to justify why they are submitting the links or results for removal, but it is ultimately up to Google to decide if something is significant enough to remain in the public realm. It is speculated that Google’s default result will just be removing the links. After all, as a controller of information, Google is responsible for being aware when they are encroaching on personal privacy.
Overall, the intentions are good but there is a large possibility for things to get out of hand with trying to remove a million tiny snippets of themselves from the Internet that they ever felt were embarrassing. It will be interesting to see how implementation rolls out. Naturally, Google wasn’t pleased with the results of the ruling in Europe, it will likely cost them a lot. Nonetheless, it is a historic event for an entire continent to stand up to Google to protect the rights of its citizens.