Do people have the right to be forgotten? This may sound like a strange question, but it is a growing consideration for internet users around the world.
After all, much as we might like to think that we live private lives, the truth is that a lot of your personal information is readily accessible to those who put in the effort to find it. Online public records can show where you live. Social media websites can indicate your age and family status, among many other things.
What if all of that could be made to disappear. In Europe right now, regulators and the court have been tussling with Google over this very question. However, it has quickly become apparent that the solution to the problem of long-term online privacy is not as simple as it may seem.
Is Google building walls between European sites?
In 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that people have the right to be forgotten, and that Google must remove some sensitive information from its search results. In addition, the search engine giant was also told that it would have to adjust links that are shown to contain outdated information.
A recent article in the New York Times explains how this has worked in practice so far. The authors — Daphne Keller, former associate general counsel for Google and director of intermediary liability at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, and Bruce D. Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — noted that Google responds to privacy requests from users by removing relevant search results out of specific European versions of their site. In other words, if a French citizen wanted some information removed, Google would make it so that users of google.fr could not see it.
But some privacy advocates say that this isn’t enough. The problem, according to Keller and Brown, is that the information taken down from google.fr would still be viewable on google.com. Though most European users visit the national versions of Google, there technically isn’t anything preventing them from seeing the main site instead.
For this reason, French regulators fined Google earlier this year, arguing that the company had not properly implemented its privacy rights policy. Now, Google will go a step further. The Financial Times reports that the company will block European users from seeing the removed links on google.com or any other national site.
What does this mean for American internet users?
Keller and Brown argue that Google’s latest move is shortsighted. Acknowledging that online privacy is a serious issue, they point out that these more serious web barriers could ultimately push smaller online organizations from creating content for specific European versions of Google.
From our point of view across the Atlantic, it can be difficult to see how this debate will affect the U.S. On one hand, there are certainly many groups clamoring for more privacy rights. But, as Keller and Brown noted, the U.S. Trade Representative may oppose Google’s latest action, on account of it standing in the way of global trade. And it’s not clear if the same level of privacy protection seen in Europe would pass muster under U.S. laws. For now, the status quo appears to hold.
The internet is an open arena for serious privacy issues. While regulators and privacy advocates may still be hashing out these details in the years to come, users must take action now to protect themselves from potential data breaches.
If you regularly spend time online, you could be at higher risk for identity theft. An identity theft protection service could help you stay more secure by monitoring your credit files, Social Security Number and public records, and let you know if there is activity that could be indicative of fraud.