Google Privacy Case in Spain has Global Implications for Online Content

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-02-26 Print this article Print

Spanish officials say Google should delete information when it hurts a person’s privacy. Google argues it need not police the content it serves up.

In the big scheme of things, it's not just a question that is being asked in Spain, he said. There have been similar cases here in the United States and elsewhere, such as X-rated photos of ex-lovers that are posted on Websites. When the photos are discovered by the people shown in the photos, they often try to get them removed, he said.

"I think the responsible approach is that when people find such content about themselves, they should contact the people who put it up and go from there" to ask for its removal, said Child. "There are these complexities with what people do post and what [victims] expect they will be able to have control over."

For the people who post such content, they may not think it is offensive, Child said, yet for the person whose information is posted they may not feel that they gave anyone else the right to post such things.

"There may be some disagreement about that," he said.

So should Google have to police these kinds of situations between two parties?

Not necessarily, according to Child. "I think that it's not going to be Google's responsibility to take this kind of information down," he said. "They are just a conveyer, an indexer of this information."

In some cases, the courts are holding people responsible for what they post and for harm that comes in connection to such posts, said Child. On the other hand, such claims have to be balanced against the right to free speech.

"It's a delicate issue because people should have the right to say what they think, and that's why it's not Google's responsibility to take things down," he said.

The Spanish case highlights the controversial issues wrapped up in this matter, said Child.

To protect themselves, everyone should regularly conduct Web searches using various search engines for their own name to see what is being said about them online, Child recommended. "I'm surprised when I interact with students who say they've never Googled themselves. We're in a day and age when you can't neglect doing that."

If a person discovers something negative that is being said about them online and violating their privacy, then they can contact the Website and negotiate for its removal, he said.

So can the negative information go away entirely?

"That's questionable," Child said, "but doing something is better than being oblivious to it."


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