Greetings from Dublin!
I find myself in my home town, which is a real pleasure, as it has been a while. As ever, some of the better conversations you’ll have in this town are with the taxi drivers; truly well-informed individuals—philosopher kings—they have views on everything. When you say you hail from Brussels, the inquisition begins. It’s akin to appearing before a parliamentary committee, featuring probing questions and rounded debate.
Dubliners can talk, I need to remind myself.
On the news front, an American privacy group, Consumer Watchdog, is set to file a complaint with U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Google for failure to offer the EU’s controversial right-to-be-forgotten (RTBF) rules in the U.S. The consumer group is urging the FTC to investigate why the same rights are not being extended to U.S. citizens. Under the EU’s rules, residents of EU countries can ask search engines to delete links to information about them they find objectionable. The ruling, which went into effect in May 2014, does not require the information be deleted from the Internet, only that search engines not link to it.
This is an interesting debate, particularly from a U.S. perspective. Taking freedom of expression into consideration, one could argue that Google has the right to derive search results from published records. After all, isn’t that core to what they do? Add to this complexity the notion of suppression of information as a concept that is problematic in the U.S. Many in the U.S. would argue the RTBF concept as a whole undermines freedom of speech as protected in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
But it’s hard to argue that the concept hasn’t resonated with the European people. Since last May, Europeans have submitted more than one million URLs to Google for removal from its search engine, and 41 percent of them have been removed from Google's local European sites. That said, the full list of search results can still be found on Google.com. France’s data protection regulator, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, has called on Google to remove these results from all its sites outside of the region as well.
Google has yet to comment on this latest issue, but it’s interesting to consider its general position. The simplified version: Google has long maintained that it is a neutral intermediary and not in the business of censorship. Yet, in the U.S., Google has removed sensitive information such as Social Security, bank account and credit card numbers from its search engines on a case-by-case basis. In addition, last month Google said it would honor requests to remove revenge porn, or intimate images and videos shared without the consent of their subjects.
Is it possible that U.S. and EU ideas about the RTBF are starting to coalesce? Is this an example of the potential for common privacy framework approaches across regions not only to the benefit of global citizens but also as a facilitator for international business? It’s a tough position in which Google finds itself as it tries to navigate a global marketplace with different cultural mores and legal environments.
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