The European Court of Justice has today issued a ruling that could eventually become a major problem for some of the world’s biggest tech firms. Namely, those that earn big revenue by scouring the Web for data and put that data to use in search engines.
In gist, the EU’s ruling is that people should have a right to privacy, and have a right to ask a search engine to remove a link to them that they’d rather not exist. This all stems from a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, who was displeased that searching for his own name at Google brought up a part of his past he’d like to forget. You can no doubt sympathize here; if you made a mistake in life, or have suffered some sort of tragedy, you probably wouldn’t be fine with seeing it reiterated as a search result in Google.
That said, there’s a fine line between someone having a right to privacy and someone being able to rewrite history. In some cases, some published information could serve a purpose, and it ensures that the press continue to have the freedom to write about stories as they have up to this point. In effect, history should not be forgotten, even if it wasn’t pretty.
Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder and Internet censorship opponent said to The Atlantic, “It is certainly shocking to have come from the EU rather than from an authoritarian state.” Law professor and former FTC head David Vladeck said, “Privacy rights shouldn’t be a tool to rewrite history… Who gets to decide whether all these links get deleted.”
The interesting thing about this ruling is that it seems to affect only search engines, like Google, and not the original content publisher. In the case of Mr. González, the publication that ran a story on him isn’t forced to remove it; instead, Google’s forced to stop linking to it.
It’s clear that this ruling could prove to be a big thorn in the side of many different tech companies. It’s one that Google itself isn’t pleased about, and those who believe we should have the right to information are likewise displeased. Many believe that the Internet should be truly open, and if information is out there, it should be searchable. Past that, this could also become a problem for companies who will have to manage takedown requests, of which there could be many.
We’ll see where this heads.