While I’m normally one to praise the European efforts to preserve people’s privacy on the Internet, especially since I live in one of the countries affected by the decisions taken in Brussels, there’s always a bigger picture to look at and this time around, they may have gotten it wrong.
Demanding that all search engines comply with link removal requests is not necessarily the best idea that the European Court of Justice has ever had. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of good things to go along with the concept, but there are even more reasons why this shouldn’t be implemented at all.
One of the things in the “Pro” list is that the search engines would lose a lot of information that is not necessarily relevant anymore. But, this is also on the “Cons” list simply because it raises the question “who decides what’s relevant or not?”
While you may want to hide the fact that you once lost your house to the bank because you couldn’t pay your loan anymore, this information may be important to other people, such as creditors who don’t have the time to run your name through the system and simply want to use Google to see if anything alarming pops up.
This is just an example, and I’m sure there are plenty more out there, but it all comes down to who decides what’s relevant and who should have the power to make this decision. After all, each individual finds different things to be important, even if the person making the request to have some links pulled down doesn’t.
The dangers of this decision were made obvious as soon as the second day, when Google had already reportedly received demands from a man accused of possessing child abuse images who wanted links to pages about his conviction to be wiped off, as well as from a politician who wanted people to forget just what his position towards a certain topic had been years before.
While Google remains a bit confused about how to actually put this new decision in practice in Europe, the company has released a form for those who want to ask the company to remove some link or another that they don’t like. Within the first 24 hours, the company received over 12,000 requests.
Were all of these valid? We’ll never know unless Google decides to share its statistics with us. It’s true, however, that Google has to look over each of these demands and decide whether or not they’re relevant, which is obviously subjective. The whole struggle to come up with an automated process stems from this very fact.
Thankfully, Google has at least laid down some ground rules by telling everyone that their requests would be looked at unless they’re trying to cover up crimes, financial scams, professional malpractices, criminal conviction or public conduct of government officials. The list is quite likely getting larger by the minute as Google looks over the requests it received.
There’s a saying that what ends up on the Internet lives forever, but it looks like the European Court of Justice wants to superficially change this. The fact that people get a do-over and get to hide their history from a search engine’s pages is not necessarily the best idea, especially since it doesn’t actually work as they want it to because the information lives on on the sites it was posted.