I am sure you caught the news this week that a European law has been passed that allows individuals to control their own data and ask search engines to remove search engine results about them. It is known as the “Right to Be Forgotten”.
When you hear of stories of ex boyfriends and ex-girlfriends uploading private photos to the internet in revenge, you understand why a law such as this had to be passed.
However, there is obviously going to be a fine line at times between what should be removed, and what should not.
The Guardian published a follow up article a few days ago that highlighted the kind of thing that Google is going to deal with. It shows that a large number of people have requested to be forgotten already.
The Guardian understands that the applications have been made to remove links to information that the complainants say is outdated or irrelevant including, in the UK, a former politician who is now seeking office and wishes information about their behaviour while in office to be removed. A man convicted of possessing child abuse images has demanded links to pages about his conviction are taken out of the index, while a doctor has said that negative reviews from patients should not be searchable.
This illustrates the task that Google have ahead of him.
I believe the public have a right to know what a politician has done in his past. If he has broken the law or found to backtrack on promises, this information should not be removed from search engine results.
The second example is a bit more controversial. I do realise that it is difficult for people with a criminal record to move on with their lives if their deeds can be found by anyone via a quick search. But when it comes to child abuse images, I just feel “Fuck Them”. The fact that these assholes still walk the streets is a crime in itself. Removing the man’s past from search engine results just makes it easier for him to blend into society and commit the crime again.
The last line is the part I found very interesting.
Negative reviews are something that can seriously damage an internet business. It is why so many companies spend so much on public relations and damage control. We all have a right to know if a product is safe or if it is high quality. Therefore, I disagree with the Doctor’s requests to have negative reviews of him from patients removed. If a Doctor is giving patients a bad service, we all have a right to know.
However, we have seen how effective negative SEO campaigns can be. A company could easily damage its competitors by covertly leaving negative reviews about their products and services. This is highly unfair.
Unfortunately, it is also very difficult to know when a review is real or not. It is not like Google can check the validity of every single review online and verify that it was published by a real person.
It is also unclear how search engines such as Google handle data requests outside of Europe. If a person has their data removed from European search engine results, will they be removed from search engine results in North America and Asia too?
I expect Google are going to set up a series of guidelines for their staff to follow. Though it is clear that no two removals requests are going to be the same. Therefore, I expect we are going to see a lot of court cases arising until search engines are clear about what they will remove and what they will not.