Today, Google has published a webpage with a form allowing anyone in Europe to ask that personal data be removed from search results. This follows the recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, deciding that:
- Indexing information by a search engine is ‘processing of personal data’
- Google is a ‘controller’ of personal data
- Spanish data protection law is applicable, even if indexing happens in the US
- Google should remove links to webpages containing personal data, even if the webpages themselves are lawful
- A fair balance should be sought between the legitimate interests of search engine users and the privacy rights of individuals
- The right to be forgotten is recognised by the Court of Justice.
I've owned the domains forgetweb.com and forgetweb.org since 2010, so this is something I've contemplated for some time and the domain names betray my leaning, yet I can confidently say the Court has got it wrong. Julian David, techUK CEO, explains why in The Telegraph: "Forget about it: the ECJ ruling on the 'right to be forgotten' is unworkable." I support his balanced sentiment 100% and would add one more vitally important perspective.
AWStats tells me that 17 bots crawled philipsheldrake.com this month, including Googlebot and MSNbot. Some companies crawl the web to make it accessible to everyone with Internet connection, Google and Microsoft for example, and some crawl the web to compile data to power commercial services, social web and influence analyses for example. So the focus on removing search results from freely available search engines does not deliver the remedy the Court thinks it needs. Rather, it removes the facility from the everyman, leaving only those who can afford commercial services unfettered; effectively the antithesis of the democratization of knowledge.
(Quick asides: CIPR President Stephen Waddington describes why it's "unworkable" here. This also appears to run counter to the spirit informing the recent European ruling supporting net neutrality – see ZiL Lane 2.0 – the new killer app for the interwebs.)
If this search ruling bothers you, make sure to use the search engines' US services rather than your local country service. If Google and Microsoft determine they need to run these through a European filter too, I won't be the only one publishing a simple technique to get round this constraint. If there is a silver lining here, Julian sums it up: "Do we need to ensure we offer meaningful safeguards that consumers and businesses can understand and rely on? Yes." – and it looks like we should now have that debate sooner than later.
Maybe those domain names will come in useful after all!