The ripples continue from Tuesday’s European Court of Justice decision on Google and the right for individuals to have links removed to unwanted personal data indexed online. In a USA Today report, Future of Privacy Forum Cofounder Jules Polonetsky, CIPP/US, discusses the decision. “It sounds like it’s just about Google, but it’s really actually threatening to much of the Internet,” he said, adding, “It’s a real blow to transparency if legal, public information can be obscured simply because somebody decides that it’s information they’d rather not be available.”
In a report by The New York Times, Harvard Prof. Jonathan Zittrain said the ruling could help individuals craft their online personas, similar to an About.me page or Facebook profile.
“I think it’s a bad solution to a very real problem, which is that everything is now on our permanent record,” he said.
Additionally, in a blog post, Zittrain writes, “the court says it can weigh in on Google’s behavior because Google is selling ads targeted at EU customers and has boots on the ground (a corporate subsidiary, servers, salespeople, etc.) in Europe. What if a more modestly scaled search engine like DuckDuckGo were to index the same information at issue in this case? It might be that the court wouldn’t ask it to do what Google is being asked to do.”
For others, the reaction is much more exasperated. James Waterworth, head of the Brussels office for the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said “it opens the door to large-scale censorship in Europe.”
However, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, told the Times that such concerns were overblown and the court has reaffirmed a standard practice in Europe.
Privacy expert Eduardo Ustaran, CIPP/E, wrote, “Ultimately, the ECJ turned this case into a dispute between the right to privacy and the right to disseminate information, and the outcome (at least in this case) is that the former wins.”
On Twitter, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales asked,
When will a European Court demand that Wikipedia censor an article with truthful information because an individual doesn't like it?
— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) May 13, 2014
Spanish Data Protection Authority Jose Luis Rodriguez told Bloomberg the ruling should mark “a turning point for Google’s behavior,” and a spokeswoman for the European Commission said regulators welcomed the ruling.
Former FTC Head of Consumer Protection David Vladeck expressed optimistic caution, telling The Washington Post, “If you are a 16-year-old and you do something dumb, there is no way to hit the reset button,” but added, “privacy rights shouldn’t be a tool to rewrite history … Who gets to decide whether all these links get deleted?”
In another Bloomberg report on the practical implications on search engines, Center of Democracy & Technology Consumer Privacy Director Justin Brookman said, "They'd have to hire an army of compliance officers," increasing the challenge for businsses to "scalably compete online."
Yesterday, Google expressed its disappointment in the decision, and others have yet to comment, including Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook. A spokeswoman for Yahoo, however, said, "Since our founding almost 20 years ago, we've supported and open and free Internet; not one shaded by censorship."
Europe-v-Facebook founder Max Schrems supported the decision, but added, “This might be a little too off-balance, even from a European perspective.”
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