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In the news – Google and the right to be forgotten

Kristian Bognaes

In the News – May 2014

Kristian A. Bognaes, Director, Norman Safeground Development Center

- In recent posts, I have often commented on data breaches, device-related security, and privacy. The latter, privacy, is the centerpiece of a major news item in May.

Google and the right to be forgotten

The European Court of Justice reached a landmark ruling in May, granting a Spanish lawyer the right to have search results erased from Google searches. According to the ruling, Google is considered to be a ‘data controller’, a term that is defined in the European law on data protection. This, again, gives EU citizens strong control over what data others can store about them. Hence, the Spanish lawyer was able to require Google to omit certain search results that would come up if someone searched his name.

There are several challenges that arise from this court ruling. For starters, some would find it worrisome that search results are ‘censored’ based on individual requests. But search results are filtered, weighted and ‘censored’ already based on many factors, and I don’t think single requests to have personal data omitted will pose a threat to the ‘information freedom’ that seemingly exists on the internet (at least within most western countries).

A more interesting question that arises from this case is whether it is possible to limit information by requesting omissions from a single search engine. Granted, Google is the go-to search tool, but there are many other search engines out there, some of which are very good. Do all these search providers have to accept requests for omissions? Will they all have a common set of criteria to follow when they decide who gets their request granted and who doesn’t? Will there be a regulatory institute to oversee that requests are treated fairly and according to the rules? Who will pay for all the additional manual labor? What about search engines that are based outside the EU?

I think that the intention is a noble one, but I seriously doubt that the effect will be more than short-lived. The internet, with all its information stores that feed off each other, is impossible to control. The Spanish lawyer has certainly secured a name on the internet for all future, given the interest in this case and the general ‘Streisand effect’.

The moral of the story may be that if you want to stay safe, secure, and anonymous on the internet, you have to take care of it yourself. No legally imposed system can do more than maybe limit the damage somewhat once your data is spread on the worlds’ networks.

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