When I arrived in the Czech Republic I quickly noticed that whenever I googled a name, there would be a small disclaimer at the bottom that says “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe”. Now the only other times I had seen a similar warning is with DMCA filings that remove results that interfere with copyright laws. Although DMCA filings are a point of contention especially within the pirating community, they are understandable as corporations are within their legal rights to restrict access to pirated material. However, I was curious about this new warning and decided to look it up. Suffice to say, I have mixed feelings about the possible ramifications of the data protection law.
On May 13th of 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union made a ruling that amended previously existing data protection laws. In short, search engines that operate in countries under the jurisdiction of the European Union are now required to remove information about individuals upon request if the information can be deemed “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive.”
The main positive thing I can see about the ruling is that it can help to reduce misinformation and stop the spread of libel. Most people know the saying, “Don’t believe everything you see on the internet”. Indeed, hoaxes, exaggerations, and lies can and do spread at almost unimaginable speeds but with this new ruling, although the information on the websites themselves are not removed, by de-listing the webpage itself, Google can help stem the spread of misinformation.
The issue that I have with the ruling is that it creates a slippery slope. How can something be deemed inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive? Furthermore, how can Google adequately decide if the complaint fits into those terms? Suppose Viktor Kožený, the perpetrator of the Czechoslovakia voucher scam, wanted information on his past and current activities removed, he could file a claim on any of those bases; whether it would be accepted as a reasonable complaint is another story but Google is not a court of law. They cannot adequately assess if information does fit into those criteria nor do they have the time to make the assessment given the amount of requests that they claim are being sent in. So if Google cannot adequately assess if the information is accurate or relevant or not, they run the risk of leaving up information that is indeed inaccurate and more importantly, run the risk of removing information that is factual and relevant which is almost synonymous with censorship.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Don Hankins.
But why would this be an issue if these laws do not exist in other places like the U.S.? I would like to refer again to that saying “Don’t believe everything on the internet”. It’s simple, it encourages people to view information on the internet critically. However, this ruling may create a feeling of complacency, a feeling that because information is now being filtered by Google that it’s 100% true and that in itself is dangerous because as previously stated, Google does not have the ability to properly ensure that all of the claims that they process are processed correctly.
So, do we have the right to be forgotten? Certainly there is a strong argument for removing misinformation but what is the cost?
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Intel Free Press