Forget Google? Not Down Under
Ever wish Google would somehow forget to bring up the link to that embarrassing matter about you on the Internet? Maybe it’s a cringeworthy photo. Perhaps it’s that little matter you had before court years ago. Maybe it’s those unpleasant things a rival said about you.
Well, in a world-first landmark legal decision, the European Court of Justice recently ruled European citizens could request Google remove their name from certain search results. It came after a Spanish lawyer claimed search results linking his name to a 1998 newspaper notice of a mortgage foreclosure was a breach of his privacy.
The newspaper wasn’t ordered to remove the article, but the court said links could be removed if they were found to be “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”. It didn’t matter if the information was accurate, the link had to go.
To comply with the court order, Google put a form on its European website to make it easier for people to request the search engine delete links. Within 24 hours Google received 12,000 requests to delete links. Within weeks it reached 41,000.
While it shows there is a demand from people who want certain items to be “forgotten” by Google, it won’t change things for some time, and not at all in Australia. The court order only applies in Europe where Google provides 90 per cent of searches.
The data itself isn’t removed, just the links to the complainant’s name. The links won’t be deleted outside Europe. Individuals aren’t being removed from the Internet, and it is up to Google to decide which links are to be deleted.
The process will take a long time as Google does all the link deletions manually, examining each link to see if it is relevant to the complaint.
The European court decision is not the end of freedom on the Internet, as some have claimed. But it does raise questions whether in the future a case could be mounted in Australia for a person to demand Google “forget” search links to their embarrassing or unsavoury past. At what point are the links still relevant? Should photos or events in your teens still pop up in searches when you are in your 20s, 30s or 40s?
How far should this go? Should a politician be able to wipe links to promises they made before elections? Should a celebrity be able to wipe links to their drug conviction? Should a businessman be able to censor links to his earlier shady deal? It’s an interesting legal question. Many people want the right to protect their personal data and manage their reputations online.