Should you be allowed to say what you want to, or report what you want to, on someone else? Or should someone who is unhappy with a writer’s coverage of their life be able to have it removed, so that all mentions of crimes they committed, or bad reviews of their services, will be forever erased from Google?
This could be the new reality in Europe as Europe’s high court has ruled that Google and other search engines are required to remove results that are deemed to “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.”
While some people are happy that they can have negative search results removed and see it as a win for privacy advocates, others view it as an attack on free speech, especially in cases where many feel the public has a right to know, such as in the case of a dirty politician or a convicted criminal. Many people are troubled that it will soon be harder to find the kind of information they feel they have a right to know, despite the “right to be forgotten” ruling, as it is commonly known.
Sources at the search giant refused to name the politician, but said yesterday Google’s U.K. arm alone received 35 new requests it remove links to unfavourable stories about people. Among those were 20 convicted criminals, including a paedophile, who requested that old references to their crimes no longer appear in Google search results about them.
A man convicted of possessing child abuse images and a GP who received negative reviews from patients are also among those who have asked Google to delete their internet histories.
The law doesn’t require webmasters or journalists to remove the content from the Web, but removing the results that link to those pages in search engines makes it more difficult for someone to find the information. However, it could still be linked to and shared on other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. While neither Facebook nor Twitter are technically search engines, there is concern that the ruling could eventually be expanded to include those sites as well.
It’s unknown whether Google will be required to remove the link to the offending page regardless of search query, or if it will simply stop the result from appearing for the search queries for the person’s name. It’s also unclear if Google will include a link notifying people that there have been results removed from the search query, similar to how they include a link to Chilling Effects when results have been removed due to a DMCA request.
There is also the possibility that the links will only be removed from that particular country’s version of Google, similarly to how it removes hate speech and Holocaust denial related links in both France and Germany, as both are illegal in those countries. In these types of cases, Google does state how many links were removed from the results with a link to Chilling Effects regarding the decision.
When asked about how they would process removals and when it will take effect, a Google spokesperson stated, “The ruling has significant implications for how we handle takedown requests. This is logistically complicated – not least because of the many languages involved and the need for careful review. As soon as we have thought through exactly how this will work, which may take several weeks, we will let our users know.”