By Joe McNamee

In the widely publicised “Google/Spain” ruling of the European Court of Justice (CJEU), it was decided that the results of Google searches sometimes infringe the rights of individuals. In such circumstances, individuals can complain – to Google in the first instance – and ask for searches involving their name to be de-linked from the unfair results.

Google reacted furiously to the ruling, arguing that “the balance that was struck was wrong”. This was followed by the publication of comparatively low (bearing in mind the huge amount of publicity) numbers of complaints to Google to de-link content. On 29 June 2015, the total number of requests received by Google was 276 580, which is approximately three percent of the total number of copyright-related removal requests that Google approves every week.

Subsequently, at a meeting of Liberal Member of European Parliament (MEP) Sophie In’t Veld’s “Privacy Platform”, Google’s Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer got himself into a tangle where he simultaneously argued:

  • that it is “obvious” that Google should act on some of the complaints it receives, as it is clear that the rights of individuals are being undermined;
  • that Google should de-link only relevant results in the national search engines (such as google.nl or google.de for instance), but not on Google.com and;
  • by implication, therefore, that the “obvious” damage to the individuals in question should be allowed to continue via searches carried out via its gobal .com domain.

On June 19, however, Google changed its policy and now grants a specific “right to be forgotten” to victims of “revenge porn” – and it does this on a global level. So, Google now agrees with basic principle that it argued against so passionately. Yes, there are obvious cases of individuals’ rights being damaged by Google search results. Yes, Google should react to complaints by those individuals and take measures to mitigate this damage. Yes, Google should implement its measures on its .com domain. The only question that Google hasn’t answered is whether and why it really believes that “revenge porn” is globally the only example of where this is true.

Eric Schmidt: Europe struck wrong balance on right to be forgotten (15.05.2014)
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/15/google-eric-schmidt-europe-ruling-right-to-be-forgotten

Online searching and privacy in the EU (19.11.2014)
https://alde.livecasts.eu/online-searching-and-privacy-in-the-eu

Google Public Policy Blog: “Revenge porn” and Search
http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.be/2015/06/revenge-porn-and-search.html

(Contribution by Joe McNamee, EDRi)

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