Search engine censorship seems to be a topic that is popping up left and right in countries around the world. This begs us to ask the question: Just how much censorship control should a government have over search engines? One Canadian court ruling would have you believe that global control is the answer.
The latest case involves Equustek Solutions, a Canadian company claiming that a competitor stole their trade secrets and is selling networking devices on Google. Equustek Solutions has requested that Google "remove all search results that link to the rival's more than 300 websites."
While Google had no hand in encouraging use of the rival's product, search results present on Google have proven very useful to the company, as does the advertising they purchase from Google.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled in favor of Equustek Solutions and issued a temporary injunction. Most importantly, the injunction requires that the results of the competing company be removed not only from Google.ca but instances of Google in other countries as well.
Google voluntarily offered to remove the search results from Google.ca but not for other sites like Google.co.uk, Goofle.fr and Google.com. A Google spokesperson drew attention to the fact that the injunction would result in "imposing Canadian law around the world". The judge's response was, "well, we have to keep up with the times."
Other Recent Search Censorship Cases
Over the last few years we've seen an increasing number of instances where Google was ordered to remove less than favorable results, or where countries have blocked content from their citizens.
Earlier this month China blocked Google results related to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.
In May, Argentinian model Maria Belen Rodriguez took both Google and Yahoo to court to demand the search engines remove images linking her to pornographic sites.
Also in May, European courts ruled in favor of a Spanish man who brought a case against Google due to search results that contained "embarrassing" financial information – the case that has become widely known as the "right to be forgotten." The courts ruled that Google and other search engines to remove results that "appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purpose for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed."
Many argue that these cases are not only censorship issues, but they alter the documentation of history. Gigaom put it best when they wrote:
Google, today, is like a library catalogue of available knowledge; while different countries may choose not to make certain knowledge available, people should be able to know it exists in the first place – and the best way they can do so is through Google.
What is the Potential Aftermath?
A case like the one in Canada opens up the floodgates for all sorts of censorship questions and scenarios. Recent rulings provide ample opportunity for people to abuse a process and begin requesting more and more information be removed from search engines.
Law professor Michael Geist wrote:
The implications are enormous since if a Canadian court has the power to limit access to information for the globe, presumably other courts would as well. While the court does not grapple with this possibility, what happens if a Russian court orders Google to remove gay and lesbian sites from its database? Or if Iran orders it remove Israeli sites from the database? The possibilities are endless since local rules of freedom of expression often differ from country to country. Yet the B.C. court adopts the view that it can issue an order with global effect.
Where do you see all this search censorship leading?