Google, Amnesia, and Virtual Space

Google, Amnesia, and Virtual Space

Last week, Google was reported to be expanding the right of Europeans to be forgotten on the Internet to domains outside their countries.

Google will have a list of people for whom Google has granted “the right to be forgotten.” These people, when searched from European IP addresses, will turn up zero links, regardless of which version of Google is used for the search.

ecjThis final detail is of significance because previously such links could easily be found despite their being blocked in European versions of Google. A European user could simply go to a site like google.com instead of google.de or google.fr, perform the same search of someone who had been granted right-to-be-forgotten privileges, and see the results that were blocked from the Google of their home countries.

This process all began when the European Court of Justice ordered Google to honor right-to-be-forgotten requests back in 2014.

Internet users whose IP addresses imply that they are outside of Europe will continue to have access to whatever results may be floating around the internet, despite the right-to-be-forgotten.

European regulators aren’t necessarily satisfied with this decision, but most think it’s a step in the right direction.

“It seems to be right in line with their demands,” French Caldwell, chief evangelist at MetricStream commented.

Adam Holland is the project coordinator for the Lumen Project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; he also believes that the decision will benefit our world of young and chaotic internet law: “It’s a good step forward…. They’ve been asking Google to take this step for quite some time, so at least on its face, Google is moving closer to what the European regulators have been asking for. As to whether it will satisfy them, I couldn’t say because it isn’t always clear what they see the endgame as being.”

ecj2Of course, it’s not as if those with the right-to-be-forgotten actually shield themselves against more than the most casual and disinterested of efforts to find links regarding them; the rest of the world still has access to search engines in full, and even in Europe a citizen must only go to the trouble of using a virtual private network (which masks the user’s IP address) to regain access to normal Google.

In fact, accessing right-to-be-forgotten links could be as easy as using another search engine.

“Since EU citizens must petition each search engine separately, it’s possible to use other search engines to find the information,” stated Caldwell. “That’s one of the bizarre characteristics of the ECJ’s decision to put the burden on the search engine comp any rather than at the source with the content owner… The content is still out there on the Web, and the Web never forgets.”

The debate bring to light various questions regarding internet censorship that remain to be sorted out.

“What I see generally happening is the desire of specific jurisdictions to impose their laws on search engines within their territory,” claimed attorney with Morris, Polich & Purdy Timothy J. Toohey. “That is a general trend and one that those who believe in the internet as a free form of communication across boundaries are distressed about.”

 

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