Big businesses often complain about over regulation, and for once I have to agree with them. Google has just started to take down search results relating to specific individuals who don’t like the information about them contained in the referenced sites. They are having to do this because of a ruling by the European Court of Justice and what is being called “the right to be forgotten”. This all came about because a man named Mario Costeja González wanted to remove a notice in a newspaper about his house being auctioned due to financial problems. This notice had led to him being unable to secure a new mortgage as it was evidence of his financial history not being all rosy. Although I can understand that he may have changed and may now be a very safe investment he did run into financial trouble and the notice in the paper was a statement of fact. Mario Costeja González’s financial trouble however is now much more notorious than if he had said nothing at all, as the whole mess seems to have gotten out of hand.
There are also some inherent problems with the enforcement, including:
- The ban only extends to European versions of Google, so if you are viewing Google search from outside the EU (or your IP is) then you can still see the uncensored version.
- The original still exists and can be found by other means. Google will only remove the search result for specific terms related to you, not to the article in general, so if your friend is also in the article then a search for them will still bring it up (as far as I understand it).
- Anyone can request to have something removed. Google has to go through each request individually to check if it is serious or if someone is wasting their time. I don’t doubt that they have the money or the resources to do this but I suspect they are going to get really annoyed by people wanting to have mildly embarrassing pictures of themselves removed.
I can totally understand that there are factually inaccurate things on the internet that are actively damaging people’s lives and those things should be looked at but removing them from the Google search does not seem like the best way of doing that even when they are legitimate complaints. If Google continues to be legislated against in this way then it could mean that people start moving away from Google search to other, smaller search engines. If we do see a diversification of the search engines that people use this will have effects on digital marketing. With fewer people using their search engine, Google will have less information to help marketers target potential customers, making ads less and less effective. If people start using other search engines then there will be simply less traffic on Google search meaning that fewer people are able to see the ads that are placed there. Although I don’t expect these issues to arise right away it is possible that rulings like “the right to be forgotten” could have a major effect on the digital marketing landscape.
To see a real world case of someone having something removed read Robert Persons blog on the BBC.