Europe’s moves to rein in Google — including a court ruling this month ordering the search giant to give people a say in what pops up when someone searches their name — may be seen in Brussels as striking a blow for the little guy.
But across the Atlantic, the idea that users should be able to edit Google search results in the name of privacy is being slammed as weird and difficult to enforce at best and a crackdown on free speech at worst.
Mountain View, California- based Google says it’s still figuring out how to comply with the European Court of Justice’s May 13 ruling, which says the company must respond to complaints about private information that turns up in searches. Google must then decide whether the public’s right to be able to find the information outweighs an individual’s right to control it — with preference given to the individual.
The judgment applies to all search engines operating within the European Union. But in practice that means Google, given that 90 percent of all online searches there use its search engine.
“The ruling has significant implications for how we handle takedown requests,” Google spokesman Al Verney said. “This is logistically complicated, not least because of the many languages involved and the need for careful review. As soon as we have thought through exactly how this will work, which may take several weeks, we will let our users know.”
There will be serious technological challenges, said U.S. privacy attorney David Keating in Atlanta.
“It seems aspirational, not a reality, to comply with such a standard,” he said. “The reengineering necessary to implement the right to be forgotten is significant.”
Google may partially automate the process, as it does with copyright-infringement complaints, but ultimately a human will have to decide when results should be sanitized.
Johannes Caspar, who as Hamburg’s Commissioner for Data Protection acts as Germany’s lead regulator of Google on privacy issues, confirmed the company is already working on an “online tool” to help people file complaints.
Because the court’s ruling applies only within Europe, it will mean some fragmentation of search results. That is, Europeans and Americans will see slightly different versions of the internet. A worst-case scenario would be if Google decides it must err on the side of caution and removes links liberally in order to avoid lawsuits, critics of the ruling said.
Differences between the U.S. and Europe over privacy have never been greater, sparked by recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency secretly broke into communications on Yahoo and Google abroad and targeted overseas telecoms, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own cellphone.