1The Implications of the EU ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Law on Web Searches
2When Did the Right to Be Forgotten Movement Start?
The issue of Right to Be Forgotten in Europe began in earnest in 2013 after a Danish lawyer living in Paris appealed to Google to have links allegedly hurting his character and his business taken down from its search engine. After Google complied with the request, the issue took off and, by last year, a European court ruled that people across the EU had the right to have links removed from search engines under certain conditions.
3How Is ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Defined?
The conditions that govern Right to Be Forgotten are somewhat generic, making them open to interpretation. However, in general, Right to Be Forgotten allows anyone in the EU to petition search engines to remove links related to content that is either no longer relevant or inaccurate and potentially damaging to an individual’s name and character. The ultimate goal is to prevent people from being stigmatized by something that may have happened long ago or for criminal charges of which they have been accused but never found guilty.
4It Removes Links, Not Access
There’s a gaping hole in Right to Be Forgotten’s applicability: It only requires that search engines remove links from their results. So, if a site has an accusation about a person, Google isn’t taking the actual Web page down, but is instead removing its visibility on its own search results. There’s also a chance that while users may find several links related to a particular topic, they may miss others, making their search efforts less complete than they would be otherwise.
5Right Now, It’s Country-Specific
The other trouble for Right to Be Forgotten is that it’s domain-specific. So, if a person in France wants a link removed from Google, he or she shouldn’t expect that link to be removed from any of the other Google domains around the world, including dot-com, which handles most of the company’s queries. Domain-specific removals have become a major sticking point for regulators around the world.
6Search Engines Are Not Required to Comply Every Time
Although search engines are encouraged to comply with requests, they’re not automatically required to do so. Under the Right to Be Forgotten law, search engines may investigate whether a request falls under the regulation. If it does, they’re compelled to take the item down. If not, search engines do not need to take a link down simply because someone asked.
7Other Search Engines Have to Comply
While French regulators have increasingly targeted Google, it’s not the only company that must comply with Right to Be Forgotten rules. All search engines, including small, local search engines and global alternatives like Microsoft Bing and Yahoo must also comply with valid Right to Be Forgotten requests. It’s Google, however, that receives the most petitions, due in large part to its dominance in the European search space.
8Google Makes the Freedom of Information Argument
Google has said time and again that freedom is only as solid as the least-free country in the world. The company has used the argument to bolster its belief that Right to Be Forgotten policies stand against individual liberty and may go against the Bill of Rights in the United States. Google firmly believes that any and all links can—and should—be put on the Internet without government or company interference. It’s a controversial point, but one the search giant stands by.
9The Policy Is a Band-Aid on a Broad Problem
The trouble with Right to Be Forgotten policies is that they may only be trying to treat a major issue with a small Band-Aid. The Right to Be Forgotten was adopted as a way to try to give people back lost dignity or to help them rebuild their reputations. But all it really does is make it harder to find Web links to specific topics. Since some folks only request that Google take down links and not other search engines, users can search on other sites and find the same embarrassing information. But this information doesn’t just exist on the Web. The same facts can be found in public records, print publications and in many other sources. The only difference is that search engines have made it easier to discover and compile information on virtually every person alive today.
10Search Engines Question Why They’re Being Singled Out
Google, Microsoft and others have all asked regulators why they are being forced to be the ultimate arbiters in the validity of a person’s request. They’ve argued that individuals should go to news outlets or any other site hosting the troubling content and ask them to remove it. Going after a search engine, they say, doesn’t wipe the content from the Web; it only wastes time and ultimately increases censorship on the Internet.
11Don’t Expect Similar Legislation in the U.S. Any Time Soon
It’s possible that French regulators will have their way and that Web links barred by Right to be Forgotten petitions will be removed from Google.com domains around the world, thereby preventing Americans from having unfettered access to once-public information. However, it’s extremely unlikely that similar legislation will be passed in the United States any time soon. There are serious doubts whether such a law would ever survive a constitutional review. To put an extra nail in the coffin, several studies have shown there is no support among lawmakers and voters for a U.S. Right to Be Forgotten law.