Should Google be forced to bring the “right to be forgotten” to the U.S.?

I’ve been a critic of the European “right to be forgotten” ruling that requires Google to remove links to some Internet content.

The ruling is anti-information, anti-free speech and a burden for companies that have to sift through thousands of requests. Since Google lost the ruling last year, it has removed links to more than 40 percent of more than 1 million sites, according to its own transparency report. 

Not happy with just having links delisted on Google’s country-specific service, some European regulators want to force Google to remove links to the search engine worldwide, as the New York Times wrote.

Now, in a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Watchdog, a U.S. advocacy group that has been a critic of the search engine giant, says the company should be compelled to apply the same process in the U.S..

“Google holds itself out to users saying they care about privacy and protecting individuals,” John Simpson, privacy project director with the Consumer Watchdog, told me. “And then not to offer a fundamental privacy tool, we think that’s deceptive. We also think it’s unfair.”

After all, Google is showing that it can be flexible, he said. Last month, it announced that it would take down links to “revenge porn,” when an ex-partner or hackers post a person’s private photos online, Matt O’Brien wrote here.

Says Simpson: “Google has demonstrated that it can do it, and it’s good business practice.”

But my understanding of how the FTC works is that it goes after companies that are breaking the law when it comes to consumer privacy, or not fulfilling their own stated policies. It would be a huge leap, legally and politically, for the agency to force Google to institute the same process here.

Simpson acknowledged that his complaint doesn’t fit the traditional model. “Ours is admittedly a more nuanced case,” he said.

But should Google make it easier for people to erase links to sites with photos or other content that aren’t, as Simpson puts it, “relevant?”

“I call this the right to privacy by obscurity, which exists in the bricks-and-mortar world,” he said. “If I did foolish things as a young person, it shouldn’t have to haunt me all my life.”

I know one thing to be true: This issue will continue to haunt Google.

Above: Google’s logo. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

 

 

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