A European court ruled that Google must delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” information from its search results when a user requests it. The ruling upholds the “right to be forgotten,” and allows people to cherry-pick their historical records and eliminate anything they don’t want other people to discover on the search engine.
Google was hit with a “right to forget” lawsuit in Spain three years ago. The country’s Data Protection Agency ordered Google to remove search links on 90 people. The company refused to remove any data.
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According to the Guardian, in the first case of many against Google, Mario Costeja González from Spain wanted information relating to an auction for his repossessed home in 1998 erased from two pages on a newspaper’s website, and the European Court of justice ruled that under European Union data privacy laws, Google must remove the links that point to those pages.
Google is the Internet’s encyclopedia, collecting and indexing public and historical information for people to find in the future. Allowing people to scrub history could also effectively let people rewrite it. If the ruling is upheld, people will be able to sanitize their background by erasing links to public information in one of the world’s largest information repositories.
European citizens could now have greater control of their data, but questions remain on how people can enforce these rules, and even whether a “right to be forgotten” is a good idea in the first place. People should have a right to have their data protected online, and companies like Google and other social media companies have been slapped with lawsuits in the past for violating users’ rights.
But there’s a big difference between private, personal data like information shared with friends on Facebook and public records that are published in a newspaper or other outlet online.
In this case Google, as the collector of information around the Web, only has to remove the links that point to the information; it doesn’t have power to remove the information itself. The two pages are still live on the newspaper’s website, so a savvy user would eventually be able to find them, it would just take more than a cursory search.
Lead image courtesy of Robert Scoble on Flickr